OSMANIA UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
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MIRACLE AT SPRINGHILL
HOLT, RINEHART AND WINSTON
Copyright I960 by Leonard Lerner
ights reserved, including the right to reproduce
this book or portions thereof in any form.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 60-12014
Printed in the United States of America
To the men and women and the children
of Springhill for their abiding faith, their
grim determination, their quiet courage.
I CLOUDS OF TRAGEDY 1
II THE CURSE OF OLD NUMBER TWO 11
IH EVERYONE CAME RUNNING 21
IV NEARLYAMILEBELOW 36
VI THESE, THE LIVING 70
VH IN THE HANDS OF GOD 84
VIH THE BIRTHDAY PARTY 94
IX "NO FURTHER HOPE" 108
X "COME AND GET US" 124
xi "STAY WHERE YOU ARE!" 135
XH A ROYAL VISIT 157
XIH AN ANNIVERSARY 165
XTV AFTERMATH 175
MIRACLE AT SPRINGHILL
Clouds of Tragedy
It was Wednesday, October 22, 1958. Black clouds moved
across the Nova Scotia shore to stand above the little
town of Springhill. It was a mining town, draped across
a rounded hillat 650 feet the highest bit of land in all
The town had dominated, and been dominated by, the
coal mining industry in Canada. In the heart of the town
stood a stone and marble monument, topped by f he figure
of a miner. It was a monument to the 125 men who had
died in SpringhilFs first disaster, in 1891. It served as a
reminder to those of the town of the peril they constantly
Springhill, which had been settled in 1790, had been
associated with coal since 1833. At first early settlers dug
it only for their own use. But as the years progressed, and
mining grants were obtained, mining became an industry
and the industry grew. By 1870 local businessmen had
2 Miracle at Springhill
formed the Springhill Mining Company and started build-
ing a railroad to a nearby town.
But the town's progress was marred by disaster. As
recently as November 1, 1956, a giant explosion had
rocked the No. 4 Colliery of the Dominion Steel and Coal
Corporation, Ltd., taking the lives of thirty-nine men.
And in 1957 a fire wreaked further havoc on the town of
only seven thousand.
Now, in 1958, the pits in Nos. 1, 3, and 4 had been
closed. The mine payroll was well below half its peak of
a few decades before. The men who went down into the
mine the company minerswere making about eleven
dollars a day. Some others, contract workers, averaged
fifteen dollars a day for a five-day week. They were paid
on the basis of the amount of coal they produced. Usually
even the contract workers did not make seventy-five dol-
lars in a week. Illness, equipment breakdown, and trouble
all cut into working time.
Despite this, more than seventy percent of these min-
ers owned their homes, and most of them owned cars.
These possessions, a collection of furniture, and the love
of a family were their holdings. But these few belongings
were enough for the strange, hardened men who looked
death in the eye every working day, who lived in a dying
town and worked in a dying industry, who lived so close
to death they were almost unconscious of its touch.
Louis Frost, chief mining engineer for the Dominion
Steel and Coal Corporation, had finished his inspection
of the mine's remaining No. 2 pit on this day, October 22.
Frost reported that he had never seen the mine "in such
good shape/' He expected no trouble, although he had
heard that for several months the miners who worked
Clouds of Tragedy 3
No. 2 had been predicting something would happen.
Frost was pleased with the condition of the mine and
with the progress of the Longwall Retreat mining system.
In the Longwall system miners worked the entire thick-
ness of the seam, and in No. 2 this meant a tunnel 400
On various levels along the 13,000-foot slope the miners
had bored long shafts into the seam and begun to work
back, mining the coal as they retreated. Special crews of
men hauled down the roof behind them.
No electrical tools or explosives were used in this mine,
for fear that a spark might touch off an underground blast.
The men used compressed-air picks to chip out the coal
and loaded the black ore on a shaker pan conveyer, which
worked just as its name implies it vibrated and ran to
the pickup point for the ore. When miners pulled the coal
off the face, they shovelled it onto the conveyer, whose
belt ran powered by compressed air to the terminal of
the little underground railroad that twisted back to the
shaft. The coal was loaded into hand cars, pushed to the
shaft, and drawn up out of the ground by the bucket, a
combination freight and passenger elevator which linked
the men to the outer world.
As each of the two work shifts ended, the maintenance
men erected roof supports all the way up and down the
face. These trusses ran five feet apart in a line parallel
to the face. They were called packs. At no time were
there less than two rows of packs standing in the area
where the men dug and sweated and cursed and shovelled
the coal, hour after hour.
A few months before, the company had proposed lining
up the faces of all the working galleries in the mine. The
4 Miracle at Springhill
miners did not like it. Monson Harrison, President of
Local 4514 of the United Mineworkers of America, met
with Vice-President Harold C.M. Gordon of the company.
The miners said their system of staggered working areas
gave them protection against bumps. Gordon, one of
Canada's best mining engineers, said this was not so. The
mine had been plagued with minor bumps recently, and
he attributed them to the failure of the unmined material
the roofsto collapse behind the retreating men. If all
the faces were lined up, he said, the roofs could be
collapsed more easily.
Gordon's plan was put into effect, and it seemed to
work. For many weeks the mine had been worked with-
out a bump. There were differences of opinion, of course,
differences which were aired endlessly over beer in the
basement of the old brick Miners' hall next to the monu-
ment. But that was the way it was to be done. The in-
spectors were satisfied with the system.
At 11 o'clock on the night of October 22, 1958, Police
Chief Leo "Sailor" MacDonald took his usual post at the
foot of Main Street. There, not far from the entrance to
the mine grounds, an arch over the driveway proclaimed
that this was the property of the company. The men who
worked the afternoon shift, from 3:00 to 11:00 P.M., would
be going home soon, so Chief MacDonald was on hand
to direct traffic.
At 11:30 P.M., Charlie Burton, hero of the 1956 explo-
sion, arrived at his home on Athol Road in his new gray
and pink Meteor sedan.
Charlie Burton was proud of his car and was fond of
Clouds of Tragedy 5
showing off the radio-speaker he had installed on the
shelf behind the back seat. Whenever there was a pas-
senger in the car he would demonstrate by switching the
sound from the front to the back.
Burton did not seem tired. As he walked into the two-
story turquoise house, with its coal-stained trim, he told
his wife he was anxious to look through the new seed
catalogue that had arrived in the morning mail.
Kathleen Burton was sitting in the kitchen, knitting a
pair of socks when her husband walked in. She leaned
toward him as he kissed her.
"What's to eat?" he asked. It was always the same ques-
tion, even at the homes of friends and relatives.
"Hot tea and a sandwich."
"How are the boys?" Burton asked as he sat down and
opened the seed catalogue.
The boys were the Burton sons, Billy, who at twenty-
two stood six feet tall, like his father; and Gary, a twelve-
year-old blond. A third son, Merlin, had recently turned
eighteen. He was with the Canadian army, stationed in
Burton thumbed through the catalogue as he ate and
sipped the hot tea. Kathleen resumed her knitting.
When he had finished, Burton stood up and stretched
his arms. "Let's go to bed. IVe got to drive into Amherst
His wife put away the half-finished sock and stood up.
Oh, yes. He was going to get the favors for the ball. It
was good for Charlie to be interested in the Knights of
Columbus Ball. He had missed last year, because he had
6 Miracle at Springhill
had to work, but Charlie was on the day shift next week.
They would be able to go.
The Burtons walked upstairs to their bedroom.
At 11:45 P.M., thin-faced Levi Milley arrived home. He
parked his 1951 green Studebaker in the driveway and
as usual walked to the back of the blue and white house
on North Street to check on his chickens. He peeked into
the coops to make sure the small light was burning, to
encourage them to lay.
Then Levi Milley peered carefully and closely at the
house. His wife, Velda, had painted the trim that after-
Velda was sitting up, waiting for him when he walked
in the back door. His sixteen-year-old daughter, Judy,
was asleep, her school books piled neatly on the kitchen
table ready for the next morning. A ruler and several
pencils were placed alongside the books.
Milley pecked his wife on the cheek, said, "Hi," and
glanced over to the gleaming white kitchen range to see
if the steaming tea pot was on.
"Hungry?" Velda asked.
"I could stand a cup of tea."
"How did things go?" Velda got up to pour the tea
and put several cookies on a plate. He never ate more
than that at night.
"About the same," the miner answered. "Things are
Mrs. Milley was pleased. If things were quiet, that was
the way they should be.
"You did a nice job on the painting."
Clouds of Tragedy 7
'Til finish tomorrow/' she replied, smiling at the com-
The two sat at the kitchen table while the miner lighted
a cigarette. He drew a few deep drags, sighed, and
snuffed it out.
'Tin tired/' he said. "Let's go to bed."
By 12:30 A.M. the Milley house was in darkness.
Bowman Maddison did not own an automobile. A fel-
low-worker, Byron "Barney'' Martin, drove him home to
the gray house on North Street that night.
Maddison was twenty-seven when he married sandy-
haired Solange in 1943, but in the fifteen years that fol-
lowed he had never been able to save enough money to
buy even a second-hand car.
When he married, Maddison bought a piece of land
from the mine company for fifty dollars. His buddies
helped him convert the shack that stood on the property
into a home. Now it had two bedrooms, a sunporch, a
front room, a kitchen, and a bathroom.
"There's still lots to be done on the house," he said to
himself as he paused on the unpaved street, after saying
goodnight to Martin,
Solange was waiting up for him in the kitchen. She was
feeding the boy, three-and-a-half month-old Constantinos.
The other children, Zora, a tall girl, who looked older
than her fourteen years, and twelve-year-old Alden, who
had his father's quiet disposition, were both asleep.
Solange was busy with the baby, so M'addison put some
canned tomato soup to warm on the stove. Then he asked
how the children were.
8 Miracle at Springhill
"Everyone's fine/' his wife replied, putting the baby
over her shoulder. "Everything go all right tonight? 77
Her husband paused. He frowned when he finally said,
"It was quiet enough, but I felt funny all night. I don't
know what it is. Maybe it's too quiet. Maybe I'm just
He poured the hot soup into a bowl, took a doughnut
from the breadbox, and sat down to eat.
The baby let out a tiny burp and Solange smiled as
she carried the child into the bedroom. Then she came out
to sit with her husband.
When Maddison finished, she put the bowl in the sink.
The miner checked the furnace and he and his wife
went to bed.
Garnet Clarke was not quite twenty-nine years old and,
as yet, he did not have a wife. He did have a girl-friend
named Stella and a 1950 Pontiac- but this was a work
night. He arrived home on Herrett Road at 12:20 A.M.
Clarke lived with his father, brother, sister-in-law, and
her two children, but everyone was asleep.
Quietly, so as not to disturb the household, Clarke
opened a can of pears and got out a dish. He turned on
the flame under the pot of tea and sat down to read the
paper while he ate. When the tea was ready, he poured a
cup, strong, and sipped it slowly.
A half-hour later he tiptoed to his bedroom upstairs.
Maurice Ruddick, a forty-six-year-old mulatto, walked
home that night to Herrett Road. It was only five minutes'
walk from the mine.
This handsome miner, with black wavy hair and an
Clouds of Tragedy 9
Adolphe Menjou moustache, walked in the door a few
minutes after midnight. He felt good. The work at the
mine never seemed to tire him. He sang while he worked,
and when he did, the men working near him forgot for a
while the heat and sweat and itch of the coal dust.
Ruddick's wife, Norma, had come home several days
before from All Saints Hospital with their twelfth child, a
girl they christened Katreena May.
Norma was awake. So were their three oldest daughters.
The other children were asleep upstairs.
When he walked in the door the girls kissed their father,
then their mother, and went to bed. They had to go to
school in the morning.
Norma was still too weak to scurry about the kitchen.
Ruddick fried a plate of bacon and ate it with crackers
When he finished eating, he cleaned off the long table,
washed the few dishes, and said goodnight to his wife.
She went to bed.
The miner went into the small room off the kitchen,
turned on his tape recorder, lighted a cigar, and sat back
on the divan to listen.
He heard his own resonant baritone voice singing "The
Sheik of Araby." Ruddick was part of a local quartet. The
four had been singing together around town for the past
seven years. It was a source of great satisfaction and relax-
ation to Ruddick, whom the town had fondly dubbed
"The Singing Miner/'
When the song was over, Ruddick turned off the re-
corder, switched off the downstairs lights, and went up-
stairs to bed. Norma was already asleep, so Ruddick read
10 Miracle at Springhill
the New York News and the New York Mirror before he
fell asleep at 3:30 A.M., his alarm set for 7:45.
Now the ominous clouds of yesterday were gone, and
the bright moon gleamed above the sleeping town, its pale
light kind to the worn houses and rutted streets. Bowman
Maddison's fears that it was too quiet seemed hardly war-
ranted on such a peaceful night.
The Curse of Old Njimber Two
Thursday, October 23, 1958, dawned bright and sunny
and warm. The surrounding hills were splashed with the
colors of autumn. It was an Indian summer day that set
men's thoughts to things other than coal.
Charlie Burton awoke at 8:00 A.M. and got right out
of bed. His wife had the bacon, eggs, and tea on the
table when he came downstairs, still rubbing the last
traces of sleep from his eyes.
The two boys had already left the house. The sixth-
grader, Gary, was on his way to the West End School.
Billy, the older boy, had gone to visit some friends for the
Burton finished his breakfast quickly. He rose from the
table and put on his jacket. "Ill be home about noon/'
he told his wife, as he started for his car.
He drove into nearby Amherst, picked up the favors for
the Knights of Columbus Ball, but he was home at noon.
12 Miracle at Springhill
While Kathleen prepared lunch, her husband talked to
his sister, Mrs. Katherine Beaton, on the telephone.
Then Charlie and his wife had their meal.
Kathleen packed his black lunch can with sandwiches
and filled his thermos bottle with hot tea. At two o'clock,
he left for the mine.
Levi Milley arose at seven-thirty, went outside to the
back of the house and fed his chickens. Then he had his
breakfast and drove his daughter, Judy, to the high school.
By the time he came home, his wife, Velda, had put on
old clothes. She painted the trim on the house while Mil-
ley fixed some of the shingles. The couple worked together
in the warm sunshine, pausing only long enough for lunch.
At two o'clock, Velda packed his lunch can with two
hardboiled eggs and two bran muffins. Milley never car-
ried a thermos. At 2:30, he kissed his wife and left for the
mine, after telling her that it seemed too nice a day to go
Bowman Maddison got up late that morning. It was
9:45. The children, Zora and Alden, were at school.
Solange had a cup of tea to keep her husband company
while he ate bacon and eggs. After breakfast, they pushed
away the dishes and remained seated at the table. Solange
began a letter to the mail order department of the Eaton
Company for winter clothes for the children.
Her husband had a much different letter to write. He
had composed a song, and if Juliette, a popular television
entertainer in Toronto, would sing it on one of her shows,
maybe he would make some money.
He finished his letter to Juliette and carefully looked
The Curse of Old Number Two 13
over the lyrics to "Dearest, My Heart is Calling"; he
hummed softly to himself as he read:
Think of the years since we parted, feeling so
lonely and blue,
Why should I be broken hearted,
When I love only you?
I want you when shadows are falling,
And I want you more than you know,
Those mercuries of you still are calling,
Calling me in the after glow.
I see your face in the twilight,
I hear your voice in the April rain.
As all the drops softly patter,
They whisper, "I love you" again and again.
Tears from my eyes still are falling,
Please make my dreams come true,
Dearest, my heart is calling,
Still calling for you.
Solange had packed his lunch can with two shrimp
sandwiches. Maddison tucked his wife's letter and his own
into his jacket pocket and, lunch can under his arm,
walked to the postoffice on Main Street. He kissed his
letter for luck before dropping it in the box.
Then the miner walked across the street to Jimmy's
Candy Kitchen for his daily visit with his friend, Jimmy
Demetre. They exchanged small- talk until 2:45, when it
was time for the miner to leave for work.
Garnet Clarke spent most of the early afternoon at his
cousin's grocery store, across the street from his home.
14 Miracle at Springhill
He had awakened at 11:00 A.M., and after breakfast there
was nothing much to do but hang around the store.
His sister-in-law packed his lunch can with four sand-
wiches and a piece of cake. He did not carry a thermos,
since he preferred fresh water from his water can in the
At ten minutes past two, Clarke left the house and
drove to the mine.
Maurice Ruddick, The Singing Miner, spent the day
doing household chores for his wife, Norma.
His alarm had gone off at 7:45 A.M., and he got out of
bed, fed the children and shipped the oldest seven off to
He thought about partridge hunting, it was such a fine
day. Maybe on Saturday, his day off, he would do just that
if the weather stayed good.
Meanwhile, after the children went off to school, Rud-
dick straightened up the house. He made the beds, washed
the dishes, and dry-mopped the floors. Norma, still too
weak to do any strenuous work, gave him instructions. He
did not mind.
Early in the afternoon the children came home from
school. His oldest daughter made him a cup of hot tea and
a sandwich. While he ate, she packed his lunch can with
bread, honey, and cake. At 2:45 he left the house to walk
The 174 men on the afternoon shift reported directly to
the mine's Wash House, the first step in their daily routine
before going down into the pits.
In this long, rambling building they changed into their
The Curse of Old Number Two 15
work clothes. A bucket suspended from the ceiling by
pulleys, was lowered by each man. He took his work
clothes from the bucket and put his street clothes in.
Then he raised the bucket again to the ceiling to keep the
floor area clear. Springhill's miners did not have the luxury
The rest of the building was cut into shower stalls.
Here, after their shift, the men attempted to wash off some
of the dust and grime, although they never succeeded in
scrubbing it all away.
From the Wash House the men walked fifty feet to the
Lamp Room. They paused briefly in the sunshine, and
someone said, looking up at the sky, it did not seem right
to have to go down into the earth on such a lovely day.
At the Lamp Room, rows upon rows of miners' lamps
hung from a giant charging-machine that put new life into
the batteries after each shift. Every miner carried an
eight-sided brass tag, the size of a silver dollar. The tag
was stamped with the figure 2, denoting No. 2 mine. A
larger number indicated the number of the lamp assigned
to each miner. At the bottom of the tag were the letters
C. R. & C. Co.: the Cumberland Railway and Coal Com-
The men handed their tags to thin, bespectacled Harry
Weatherbee, who had spent forty-two of his fifty-six years
with C. R. & C. Weatherbee knew every miner by his first
name, rarely had to consult his book for a man's lamp
Levi Milley turned in tag No. 1055. Weatherbee handed
Milley his lamp and battery, and Milley slid it into place
in the grooves at the front of his helmet. The cord from
the lamp crossed the helmet, wont through a loop at the
16 Miracle at Springhill
back, and down to the battery which he hooked onto his
Weatherbee put the tag on a large board. Here was
the record of lamps issued to each miner. It was also a
grim, but invaluable, record in case of disaster.
If a man survived an explosion or a bump, when he
came to the surface his lamp was turned into the Lamp
Room and his tag removed from the board and returned
to him. An accurate count of men still below at any given
time could be made by checking the tags on the board.
Bowman Maddison turned in tag No. 1122. Garnet
Clarke handed in No. 766 and Maurice Ruddick gave up
tag No. 624. Charlie Burton turned in tag No. 2007, the
same he had always carried since the 1956 disaster.
The only man to forget his tag was fifty-five-year-old
Percy Rector. He had carried No. 1202 for more than
twenty years, and this was the first time he had ever mis-
Weatherbee instructed Rector to obtain a requisition
slip at the mine manager's office. Rector returned in a few
minutes with the slip and Weatherbee handed him a
From the Lamp Room to the mine entrance it was
seventy-five yards. Men who were ready early sat around
on the bankhead and waited. Others filled their water
As three o'clock approached, the area between the
Lamp Room and the mine entrance filled until 174 miners
milled about in the bright sunshine.
At three sharp, they entered into the darkness of the
Just inside the mine entrance they got into the rake.
The Curse of Old Number Two 17
A rake consisted of two or more trolleys hooked together
and hauled up and down by strong cable, to transport the
men to the various working levels. This kind of rake was
called a man-rake. A coal-rake was made up of what the
miners called boxes. It was used to carry coal to the sur-
The man-rake was eased gently down the sloping tracks
to the 7,800-foot level. Here the men got off to change to
a second rake which would take them deeper into the
mine, for SpringhilFs upper levels had long since been
worked. The coal was now found over a mile below
ground. To get to it, the miners travelled, on the slope,
more than two miles below ground. When the rake
reached the bottom it would pick up men from the previ-
ous shift and return them to the surface, ten men crammed
into each trolley, eight trolleys in operation. It didn't take
long to change shifts at Springhill.
Maurice Ruddick was in high spirits as he descended.
His lusty baritone rang out in "The Curse of Old Number
Two/' It was dedicated, he grinned, to the bumpiest mine
in the world. The others on his trolley smiled. Good old
Maurice. A song for everything!
After twenty minutes of grinding and bumping and fall-
ing, the rake stopped at the 13,000-foot level. Some of the
men got out, their lights bobbing weirdly in the darkness.
Ruddick climbed out here and walked over the uneven
floor to the top of the 13,000-foot wall. There he found
his shovel and axe. He had forgotten them the day before,
but he knew that no one on the other shift would take
them. Underground there was only one policy: honesty.
18 Miracle at Springhill
A man's life could depend on the trustworthiness of his
fellows. Weaklings didn't last long in the mine.
The rake continued down to the 13,400-foot level where
more miners left, to make their way along the narrow gal-
leries to the face of the coal. At the 13,800-foot level the
last of the passengers stepped out, and the quitting shift
began to load.
Now, 174 men had been transported into the depths of
the deepest mine in North America. Straight down from
the pithead to the point where the men worked at the
lowest level it was 4,400 feet, nearly a mile! The levels
themselves were reached by gradual inclines that sloped
more than two miles into the earth.
Most of the men worked on three adjacent walls, at the
13,000-, 13,400-, and 13,800-foot levels. About eighty men
were right at the coal face. Twenty-seven others worked
at the three levels, moving the coal to the slope. The
remainder were scattered between the levels and the sur-
face. They operated the hauling equipment and did the
necessary maintenance work.
Charlie Burton worked at 13,000 feet with a com-
pressed-air chipper pick. He pulled the shiny black coal off
the face, but first he had to find just the right vein, so the
coal would fall away easily. Burton had taught many a
young miner the intricacies of chipping at the coal in just
the right spot.
Garnet Clarke worked what the miners called "the tim-
ber road," at the top of the 13,000-foot wall. He and
thirty-five-year-old Currie Smith loaded and unloaded the
hardwood timbers used in shoring up the areas where the
miners worked. Hie pair loaded the timber into rakes at
The Curse of Old Number Two 19
the 12,600-foot level and brought it to the wall at 13,000
feet. Here, they unloaded it and went back for more.
Levi Milley was still thinking how well his wife had
painted the trim on the house when he hung his jacket on
a pack of timbers at 13,400 feet. Later, he would be work-
ing at the top of the 13,000 section, but for the next hour,
his job was to build the packs high to keep the roof from
Bowman Maddison went down the main slope, crossed
the back slope, and came up to the 13,000 level. He
worked there with thirty-five-year-old Caleb Rushton, un-
The whirring of the air fans, the incessant chatter of
the chipper picks, and the rumbling of the coal-rakes go-
ing up and down created a weird cacophony. The smell
of the mine, the hot, wet odor of sweat, coal-dust, and
dirt; the mustiness, the heaviness; they grew stronger as
the hours passed. No level escaped. This was the smell of
Each hour the lights from the men's lamps searched a
shorter distance than the hour before. The grayish fog
grew heavier, the tunnels and galleries hotter. The men's
faces blackened in the pulverized coal. Some men re-
moved their shirts and worked stripped to the waist, their
muscled bodies glistening, black with perspiration and
coal dust. It took a man to stand up to this work.
No matter how familiar with the mine they were, the
men stumbled on the uneven floor or tripped against the
rails that wound along the passageways. They bumped
against the timbers. Red welts formed on their backs and
arms, welts that blackened quickly with dust. These welts
20 Miracle at Springhill
and raw sores were the marks of the miner, here as all over
At 6:00 P.M., about the same time that their families
were sitting down to supper above the ground, the men
stopped work to eat some of their sandwiches. The water
they had brought down with them was now lukewarm. In
the mine nothing stayed cold.
Twenty minutes later, the men got up from the floor
of the mine, put their lunch cans away, and resumed work.
They would break again a little later to finish the sand-
wiches and take a breather.
Shortly before 7:00 P.M., a minor bump hit at all work-
ing levels. Coal fragments and dust shook down on the
Two company officials, observing at the 13,000-foot
level, took note of the bump, and an overman ( a foreman)
at 13,800 jotted down in his notebook the time it had oc-
Maurice Ruddick muttered, "Good old dependable No.
"Did you feel it?" Bowman Maddison asked his buddy.
Caleb Rushton nodded.
When a serious bump occurred, the usual practice was
to clear the mine for twenty-four hours to give the stresses
a chance to readjust. No one saw any need for it this time.
It was only a minor bump. The men continued to work.
Everyone Came Running
At 8:06 P.M., a tremendous roar shook every home in
Springhill. Dishes rattled, windows cracked, and tele-
phones throughout town went dead. Even ten miles away,
the ground shuddered. Seismographs at Nova Scotia's Dal-
housie University in Halifax showed the shock to be of
the same strength as a small earthquake.
Kathleen Burton stiffened. She dropped her knitting.
Her son, Billy, who had been visiting next door, ran into
"Something's happened. Find out what it is," she
shouted. Her mind raced back to a November day, nearly
two years earlier, when a similar roar had shaken the
foundations of the house.
"Oh, God! Don't let it happen again!" she pleaded.
Billy raced from the house and down the road.
Others were already running.
Garnet Clarke's brother, Harold, was shaking a damper
on the pot-bellied stove in the living room of his house.
22 Miracle at Springhill
"What was that?'* he called to his wife, Lorraine, know-
ing full-well what it was.
"It sounded like an automobile crash/'
They moved quickly to the front door, looked up and
down the empty road.
"I'll find out what happened," Clarke said. He put on
his jacket and left the house.
Lorraine returned to the living room where Thomas
Clarke, her father-in-law, was still sitting on the divan.
They had been watching television. The children from the
high school in Springhill sang in a music festival from
Moncton, New Brunswick, which was telecast on station
Thomas looked up grimly. "I didn't have to run to the
door. I know what happened."
Judy Milley ran into the living room. She had been do-
ing her homework in the kitchen when a glass had tum-
bled from the rack on the wall to smash on the floor.
Velda Milley was standing, unmoving, in the center of
the room. Mother and daughter looked at each other si-
lently. Behind them, the television set blared the racket of
the Lucille Ball show, "I Love Lucy."
Finally, Judy spoke. "Maybe it was a truck going fast
over the holes in the road."
But they both knew better.
Just a few minutes before, Velda had been thinking
about how pleased her husband would be. She had nearly
finished painting the trim.
"I want to be there!" Zora Maddison called to her
Everyone Came Running 23
mother. The girl grabbed a jacket from the closet and ran
from the house.
Young Alden came running in from next door. He had
a good idea of what had happened. You did not live in
Springhill without knowing.
"Your poor father. Your poor father/* Solange said softly.
Alden had seen his sister running with the others to-
ward the mine. He put his arm about his mother's waist.
'Til stay with you, Mom/'
Norma Ruddick tried to look unconcerned as she
checked the nine children in the upstairs bedrooms. Some
of them were awake, though lying very still.
"Now go to sleep. Everything's all right," she said,
although in her heart she knew that everything was all
Downstairs, two daughters waited for their mother.
The oldest girl, Colleen, had already left the house.
Margaret Guthro's first thought was to run to the mine,
to find Hugh.
She had put her two children to bed. Dorothy, her
sister-in-law, was seated at the kitchen table, a large towel
draped over her shoulders. Margaret was about to start
giving a home permanent when dishes toppled from the
shelves and the lights flickered.
She screamed, "Oh Dot, Dot!"
In 1956, Hughie and 126 others had been trapped in
No. 4 mine. For three days and nights she had waited.
She gave up hope on the third day. That was the day
Hughie was rescued.
24 Miracle at Springhill
"It can't happen again!" she cried. "It can't. Dot, stay
with the children. I'm going out."
Margaret threw on a light coat, ran out, and looked
across to the mine pithead, less than 300 yards from her
front door. Clouds of black dust almost blotted out the
yard lights, but she could see men, women, and children
running from all directions.
The resident mine manager, George Calder, picked up
the telephone at his home and called the number at the
7.,800-foot level, where the rakes stopped on the first leg
of the trip down the shaft. There was no answer. He ran
the two blocks to the mine.
Doctors and nurses at All Saints Hospital felt the build-
ing shake, even on its perch, high on a hill over the town.
Hospital Administrator Stanley Tibbetts felt it on the
second floor. He ran downstairs. Everything seemed to be
all right in the hospital, so he went outside. People were
coming from their homes, and Tibbetts picked up snatches
"Bump" . . . "No. 2" ... "My God . . ."
Tibbetts ran back into the hospital and picked up a
telephone to call the mine. He could not get through.
Superintendent of Nurses Rebeccah Hargreaves arrived
at the hospital fifteen minutes after the bump. She and
Tibbetts held a quick consultation. Some of the patients
were discharged immediately, several days earlier than
normal. All available space in the fifty-six-bed hospital
was made ready, although as yet no one at the hospital
knew the full extent of damage and injury.
Everyone Came Running 25
Mine Manager Calder's office was in turmoil. No one
knew exactly what had happened, except that there had
been a terrific bump.
"I'll try the phone again," he told assistant mine man-
ager Randolph Carter.
Carter shook his head. "It's no use. I've been trying."
Nevertheless, Calder picked up the phone and called
the 7,800-foot level again.
This time Overman James McManaman answered. "I
guess I was knocked out for a few minutes, George. It's
awful down here. Some of the men are badly hurt." He
coughed as dust clogged his nostrils and throat.
"We're coining right down!" Calder shouted into the
phone. "Any communication below your level?"
"Everything's knocked out. Everyone down there must
be dead. It's awful, awful!"
"We're coming after you," Calder shouted again. "Hang
on. We're coming." He put the phone back on the hook
and turned to Carter. "Get me twenty men, fast!"
Carter ran to the front door. "I need volunteers," he
Nearly every hand went up. Carter picked twenty men.
"Get some equipment," he ordered. "We need lights, crow-
bars, axes, shovels, everything."
The volunteers sprinted for the supply department.
Calder, meanwhile, called the 7,800 level again. "Clear
the slopes," he ordered McManaman. "Stop the coal boxes.
Take them off and put on the trolleys. We've got to get
the men out as quickly as we can." He hung up before
McManaman could answer.
The twenty volunteers returned to Calder's office ready
to go. They were "barefaced" men, so called because they
26 Miracle at Springhill
went into the depths without gas masks. Their faces were
not just bare tonight, but white with anxiety.
Later, the fully equipped rescue teams of Draegermen,
complete with gas masks, would plunge into the mine. But
now, there was no time to wait until they could prepare.
"Let's go," Calder called. The men followed him into
the throng of anxious friends and relatives who had gath-
ered to begin the vigil.
At 8:45 P.M., Calder led the volunteers into the mine.
They had little difficulty reaching the 7,800 level. Here,
they were quickly briefed on conditions, as they were
known. The 13,000 level and 13,400 level were completely
blocked. Gas was reported seeping into the 13,000-foot
level. (At least fifty-six men, maybe more, were known to
have been working there. )
"We'll work our way back through the other way/'
Calder informed his men. The group turned and walked,
hunched-over, back up the slope. They cut around to the
Calder could scarcely believe his eyes. His light showed
a scene of utter destruction. "The floor just came up and
smashed into the roof," he whispered to a man behind
him. "How could anyone survive this? It's probably worse
where we can't get through."
The man nodded in grim agreement. "Those poor, poor
The group continued to work along the shattered level.
Suddenly, Calder stiffened and began to cough violently.
He fell to his face and crawled backwards, sliding and
scratching. The others behind saw and flattened them-
selves on the floor of the shaft.
Everyone Came Running 27
"Gas! Gas!" Calder cried. "Get down!" But the men
were already down.
They lay there, panting, and trying to hold their breaths,
till their lungs ached. Then Calder began to inch ahead.
"Got to see if it's clearing," he muttered. Hesitantly, he
took a deeper breath. Then he breathed again. His head
began to clear and he continued to move forward over
rocks and splintered timbers.
The men behind did not move. Their lights all pointed
on the figure of Calder as he worked slowly ahead of them.
"It's all right now/' Calder called back. The men began
to crawl after him.
A short way down the level, two men were struggling
through rockfalls and timber, unknown to Calder and his
Archie Legere and Thomas McManaman had somehow
survived. Now they were trying to claw their way out.
Legere, a fifty-five-year-old survivor of the 1956 explo-
sion, had been at the 13,800-foot level when he decided
to eat instead of moving up the coal wall. His appetite
saved his life.
When the bump came, Legere was munching a sand-
wich. The concussion knocked him off his feet and down
the shaft. He could not see through the swirling clouds of
black dust. His back ached. His knees were scraped.
Legere remained motionless for a moment, afraid to
move. His light still worked. He turned his head to the
right and to the left, but the dust was too thick. Then he
heard a voice:
"Get me out of here! For God's sake, help me!"
Legere crawled toward the voice. Within a few feet, he
28 Miracle at Springhill
was joined by Thomas McManaman, who had clawed his
way out of a coal trap with his bare hands.
"Someone's hollering for help/' Legere said. "Let's go
after him." He did not bother to ask how McM'anaman
was. The fact that he was there was enough.
"I think the voice came from up ahead," McManaman
The two men crawled on, painfully and slowly.
Bill Blekhornut was a few yards ahead, buried up to his
knees in coal and rock. He could not move.
Legere and McManaman found a pick and shovel. They
dug the trapped miner out.
"You O.K., Bill?"
"I guess so. My legs are a little stiff. Ill be all right. Go
on, I'll catch up to you. I want to rest for a minute or so."
Legere and McManaman continued ahead. They
stopped when their lights picked up the limp figure of a
man, pinned against the roof by the wooden props.
"Let's keep going. We can't help him now," Legere said.
They moved on.
They found Clyde Murray, Jr. further up the level. The
wooden props had him pinned to the ground. He had a
broken leg and a fractured collarbone, but he was alive.
Legere and McManaman worked feverishly to help
Murray. Each time they moved the coal away, or rolled
a piece of timber off his body, he cried out as the pain
stabbed through him.
Finally, when they freed Murray, they left him for the
rescuers to find. Then they continued to crawl on.
Suddenly, instead of coming up the wall as it was sup-
posed to they felt the air rushing down the wall.
Everyone Came Running 29
"They've reversed the fans! Those stupid sons of bitches
will drive the gas in here!" Legere yelled.
But, as suddenly as it shifted, the air flow changed back
"That means somebody outside is coming after us!"
McManaman said jubilantly.
The pair clawed a larger opening in the rockfall to let
in more air. They continued on, pausing only to rest and
catch their breaths.
George Calder and his volunteers crawled into them,
grimy face to grimy face.
Above ground, Lamp Room Foreman Harry Weather-
bee told his assistant, Alf Cox, "Better stay on through the
night. We're liable to be here a long time."
Weatherbee looked at the 173 tags and Percy Rector's
requisition slip on the board.
"How many tags will come off that board after this?"
Weatherbee asked himself softly.
He thought how minutes, even seconds, could change
everything in a man's life. He had been at home watching
television. Then that awful roar came. He knew what it
was right away. In fifteen minutes he was at his office.
Shortly, two soot-covered men walked slowly into the
Lamp Room. Charlie Alderson and Joe McManaman, one
of three named McManaman who were involved in this
bump. They were the first men to reach the surface.
The crowd had followed them from the pithead to the
Lamp Room. Charlie Alderson and Joe McManaman, one
nothing. They did not know what had happened.
Weatherbee had the same question.
"We don't know, Harry," Alderson replied. "There was
30 Miracle at Springhill
a bump. A bad one. There's lots of gas and dust down
there." He was still shaken by the ordeal, and his voice
cracked as he spoke.
Joe McManaman interrupted. "We came through a trap
door. It was blown off its hinges. We came right through/'
He shook his head in disbelief. "We just came through
and here we are/' He paused for a moment, not wanting
to say the next words. "There's dead men down below/'
The two ripped off their lamps and handed them to
Two tags came off the board.
Now others began coming up under their own power,
still coughing and choking from dust-filled lungs. They
had crawled and stumbled over bodies in the darkness,
but they continued to move upward and upward until
they came out into the night.
At 10:10 P.M., Gerald Millard, his face blackened with
dust, turned in his lamp and took back tag No. 497. He
Eddie Hayes, slightly injured, gave up his lamp. Tag
No. 553 was removed from the board.
By eleven, a few more men had straggled to the surface.
Arthur Noiles was among them. He held no conversation
with Harry Weatherbee. Frank Brown No. 519 came off
the board. He, too, was silent. Turning in the tag was a
reflex action. The men knew they had to turn in their
lamps when they reached the surface, so they did.
At 11:00 P.M., Hilton McNutt came out of the pit. He
reported in, but did not give up his lamp. He had a hot
cup of coffee and left to join the rescue crews; within an
Everyone Came Running 31
hour, he was underground again, facing the death he so
recently had cheated.
George Calder and his volunteers were still clawing,
scratching, and digging. They pushed along the 13,800-
foot level and tunneled up the wall to 13,400. It was slow
going, agonizingly slow. The mine still rumbled. Every
once in a while a shower of coal and rock fell from the
roof onto the men. Tiny fragments trickled down their
backs. The men paused at each rumble, fearful that an-
other gigantic bump was in the making.
Calder's men found Archie White and Percy Hunter
at 13,400. The two were half-buried by a rockfall, but the
volunteers dug them out, and White and Hunter made
their way to the surface.
When White reached the Lamp Room, he reclaimed tag
"I guess I won't be needing this anymore/' he told
Weatherbee. But, he stuck the tag ih his pocket.
He did not even bother to go to the Wash House to
shower and change his clothes. He walked home.
Percy Hunter, slowly, reluctantly, walked into the Lamp
Room and handed Weatherbee his lamp for tag No. 793.
He kept his eyes away from the tag board, afraid to look.
Weatherbee handed him his tag, but Hunter kept his
eyes down on the counter.
''What about the boys? Any news?" Hunter asked in a
low voice. The "boys" were his twin brothers, Frank and
Wilfred. They were inseparable.
Weatherbee told him that they were still together,
somewhere in the mine.
Silently, Percy handed his tag back to Weatherbee.
32 Miracle at Springhill
The foreman understood. He handed Hunter his lamp,
and the miner walked out to join the rescue workers.
The sky had clouded over now, and an occasional
shower drenched the crowd at the pithead. Few noticed.
After more than four gruelling hours underground,
George Calder and the twenty "barefaced" men came to
the surface. They were dog-tired, scratched, bruised, and
heartsick. Calder went directly to his office. The others
stretched out on benches in the Wash House. They lay
there, not speaking, breathing deeply.
Outside, the crowd waiting at the pithead moved back
respectfully as a line of Draegermen, Nova Scotia's famed
rescue crews, silently marched by in single file. No one
tried to talk to them as they disappeared, one by one,
into the mine entrance.
Draegerman was a synonym for courage in Nova Scotia.
The name was derived from that of a German scientist,
Alexander Bernhard Draeger, who invented a type of
special equipment for breathing in a mine choked with
gas. The equipment weighed slightly less than an infan-
tryman's pack about forty-five pounds. The main duty
of a Draegerman, a coal miner especially trained in rescue
work, was to provide safe breathing air in the mine. After
he made sure of the air, his next job was to take injured
persons to points of safety and medical help.
He carried his equipment on his back into the unknown,
into rockfalls, broken timbers, gas. He crawled across
jagged chunks of rock and coal, through narrow open-
ings, scraping his shoulders and cutting his hands and
knees, to reach men in trouble, men depending on him.
Normally, five Draegermen worked in a crew, under a
Everyone Came Running 33
captain. At one time, there was no age limit, but the rigors
of the highly specialized work now required that a
Draegerman be over twenty-one years of age and under
forty-five. Each man was tested at regular intervals for
physical fitness and knowledge of the mine. If he failed,
he was dropped.
When not on rescue work, the Draegerman was a miner,
receiving miners' wages. On rescue * work, his pay
"jumped" to about seventeen dollars a day. That was only
a few dollars more than his regular pay. A Draegerman's
value was not paid in dollars. For the seventeen dollars a
day, he inched his way into a mine, opening gas doors,
sealing gas in pockets, all the time moving slowly ahead.
The mask he wore was tight, so that a sudden bump or
miscalculation could not wrench it free from his face, for
a single whiff of deadly methane gas was enough.
Small wonder that the crowd at the pithead moved
back respectfully when the first line of Draegermen filed
However, the crowd spoke with awe of George Calder
and his twenty volunteers, who had gone down into the
depths before the Draegermen were ready, men who
had gone without masks.
Every light in All Saints Hospital was blazing. Already,
nineteen men had been brought in, and it was just after
Five of the first men needed only superficial treatment.
They were released. Fourteen others were kept for ob-
servation and treatment. There were enough beds, still.
Anxious relatives crowded the waiting room to see their
men who had escaped death. Others stood around begging
34 Miracle at Springhill
for information about men still not reported. At that
moment, 155 men were unaccounted for.
Doctors, nurses, and supplies arrived from Halifax and
Amherst. No one called for them. They just came. Tele-
grams poured into the hospital from drug firms all over
Canada, offering anything that might be needed. Women
whose husbands were still below ground showed up to
offer their services as nurses' aides, help that was ac-
It was decided to open the Armories, around the corner
from the hospital. If a wholesale rescue developed, the
additional space would be needed immediately. A squad
of women was sent to clean, set up beds, roll bandages.
No one had called the Red Cross or the Salvation Army.
But they arrived at the scene shortly after the bump oc-
The chairman of the Springhill Red Cross disaster
services, forty-four-year-old Edwin McKinnon, could not
be on hand to direct operations. McKinnon was a miner;
he was trapped somewhere below with the rest.
The first Red Cross unit, a team of twenty-one workers,
arrived at the same time the first group of Draegermen
entered the pits. A military transport had rushed them
the 175 miles over the road from Saint John, New Bruns-
wick. They immediately set up an emergency feeding
station near the pithead.
The Salvation Army hastily threw up three huge tents
nearby, two of them tents that had been used in 1956.
Long wooden tables were brought in from the Miners*
Hall and from the Canadian Legion building. Residents
of the town carried chairs from their homes. Pot-bellied
Everyone Came Running 35
stoves were put in the tents, their pipes extending through
the top flaps.
Inside, the tents gradually grew warmer. But not so
warm that those who waited in the early morning hours
could refrain from huddling close while they continued
T^carly a Mile Below
Levi Milley had been working at the 13,000-foot level
when the bump hit, and he was tossed like a sack of
feathers into the air. He somersaulted three times,
bounced off the roof of the mine and dropped to the floor
with a sickening thud. Dust swirled in great clouds around
him. It burned his eyes, clogged his nostrils, and seared
his lungs. He lay there panting in the darkness. The black
walls had closed in. The roof had come down, the floor
had risen, so that only three feet of space was left. In this
small section, for some reason, the floor had not smashed
into the roof. As Milley lay there, he could hear groaning
and screaming all about him. Some cries seemed to be
coming from a great distance away. His head pounded,
and there was an awful ringing in his ears.
Was this what it was like to be dead?
The far-off cries died out. For several terrifying mo-
ments Milley could hear only the sound of falling debris
and rock and coal rolling through the shaft. And only
Nearly a Mile Below 37
that morning he had been worried about his chickens and
the trim on his house. . . .
Milley was shocked to sudden attention by someone
"My damn leg is caught. Someone take the stone off my
leg. Somebody help. . . ."
Milley's cap light was out but he reached up and tried
the switch. It worked and cast a faint light on the chaos
around him. He crawled three feet to his left, in the direc-
tion of the cry. His light flashed into a miner's face, a
face so blackened by dust that he did not recognize it.
"Who is it?" Milley asked, staring at the miner, whose
helmet, lamp out, was pushed down over his eyes.
"Caleb Rushton. Can you get my leg free? I can't move
"Hold on, 111 give you a hand." Milley leaned over
and gave the stone a hard shove. It rolled off Rushton's
Rushton wriggled his leg, slowly. It did not seem to be
broken, but it was painful to move. "Thanks, whoever
"That's all right. Think you can come with me?"
"I'm sure as hell not gonna stay here."
"Then let's go."
The two men made their way on hands and knees
through the shattered shaft. Rushton lighted his lamp.
Their lights stabbed through the darkness, to spotlight the
lifeless forms of men lying grotesquely on the floor or
smashed against the roof. Tools and shattered helmets
and lamps were scattered everywhere. But everywhere
38 Miracle at Springhill
it was silent, the silence of death. Then, one of the bodies
stirred and groaned. The two men, without speaking,
made their way to the form.
"It's Joe McDonald," whispered Rushton.
The miner was lying on his back, one leg twisted under
him. He looked up. "Who's there?" he called.
"Levi. Levi Milley and Caleb Rushton."
"For God's sake, help me. It's my leg!"
"Take it easy. We'll help you," whispered Rushton.
Milley and Rushton worked to free McDonald's leg.
It was not caught or pinned by anything. It was twisted
under his body. When they straightened it, McDonald
let out a searing cry of pain. Milley reached under the
leg, shuddered, and quickly withdrew his hand. He had
touched wet, slippery bone that protruded through the
skin at the hip.
"Jesus," Milley muttered.
"For God's sake don't leave me," McDonald pleaded.
"We won't," Milley assured him. "We're right here."
They stayed with McDonald for several minutes, until
he dropped off into unconsciousness.
Milley and Rushton crawled slowly, in circles. They
bumped into bodies, some of them dead but still warm.
A shower of stones rattled down a slope a few feet away.
A form sliding down the incline had loosened the debris.
It was Teddy Michniak, who had painfully pulled himself
along toward the voices he heard. Michniak's shoulder
was broken, his wrist hung limp from his left arm. But he
The bump knocked Bowman Maddison off his feet. A
flying chunk of coal severed the cord from his battery to
Nearly a Mile Below 39
his lamp, and he lay on the floor in darkness, not daring to
move. For several minutes the miner remained still,
breathing heavily and waiting for something else to hap-
pen. Finally he stretched out one arm, then the other.
There was no pain. Slowly, he twisted his body at the
waist. There was still no pain. Then his right leg. His
left. He struggled to his knees and then to his feet,
smashing his head into the roof. He fell back to the
ground, remained there for a moment, and pulled himself
back to his knees. "Anybody there?" he called. The sound
of his own voice startled him.
Ahead, he saw lights that barely pierced the swirling
dust, and he moved toward them in the darkness. He
rose from his knees, gently, until the top of his helmet
scraped against the roof. There was not room to stand
up straight, but crouched, he could take one cautious step
after another. "Who's there?" he called toward the lights.
The mine still rumbled. Great chunks of rock and coal
slid down from the walls and came to a stop at his feet.
Through the noise he heard, "Levi Milley." Then, "Caleb
Rushton. Who are you?"
"Bowman Maddison," he shouted back. He continued
to move toward the lights until he reached the others.
"There's more alive back there," Milley said. "Joe Mc-
Donald is hurt. I think his hip is busted. I felt his bone
sticking out. Teddy Michniak is banged up. Got some
broken bones." He said it matter-of-factly. That they had
broken bones and injuries did not matter so much as that
they were alive.
"Let's look around," Maddison said. "Maybe we can
find some others. I haven't got a light. The cord's cut."
40 Miracle at Springhill
"You get in the middle," Milley said. Til lead the
way. Caleb will come up behind/'
The three miners had gone no more than ten feet when
they crawled into Larry Leadbetter. He was lying on the
floor, waiting. He had heard the voices but could not be-
lieve they were real. He did not call. He simply waited.
When the men arrived, Leadbetter sat up. The sight of
the others was too much for him.
"My God! Oh my God!" he cried. "It was awful. Don't
leave me alone here! Please. I don't want to die. I'm
only twenty-two. I've got a wife and a kid." He began to
"None of us want to die, dammit! None of us," Mad-
dison growled. "And we won't leave you alone. Do you
hear me? Listen to me! We're all here together. Under-
stand? We're all here together!" Maddison was shouting
Milley patted Maddison on the shoulder. "Take it easy.
He's only young and he's scared like all of us."
"Yuh ? you're right," Maddison agreed. He turned to
Leadbetter. "I'm sorry I yelled at you. I'm just as scared
as you are."
The group fell silent. They heard other voices, some
crying faintly for help, others praying. In a while, the
For a while, they heard scratching farther down the
shaft Then that sound stopped, too. Someone had died
in the darkness, unable to claw his way out from under
the torus of coal and rock.
"Who else is here?" Maddison finally called, not ex-
pecting an answer from anyone outside his little group.
Nearly a Mile Below 41
"Say your names if you can/' Milley added. "Ill start
it. Levi Milley/'
"Joe McDonald/' The voice was weak.
"Teddy Michniak." The voice was strong.
"Larry Leadbetter." The sobbing had stopped.
For a moment there was silence. Then, out of the dark-
ness, as the dust began to settle, other lights shone
"Gorley Kempt. I'm all right/'
"Lowther, Eldred Lowther/'
"Wilfred Hunter. And my leg hurts/'
The men squatted on the ground, close together. Their
lights flashed in all directions and cast eerie shadows on
Milley counted. "Thank God. There's twelve of us.
Anyone else?" he called as loud as he could. His voice
bounced off the walls and echoed back to him. That was
all. The mine was quiet. Gone were the cries and groans of
dying men. Gone were the last desperate scratchings of
men buried alive.
"We can't stand up here," Maddison warned the others,
remembering how he had bumped his head. "There's
only about three feet of space above us. Reach up and
see." He reached up to prove his point. His hand ran along
"Joe McDonald can't move," Milley announced. "I think
his leg's busted. Michniak's hurt, too."
42 Miracle at Springhill
"It was one son of a bitch of a bump/' a voice said
slowly, accenting each word. A light was flickering against
the roof. "Just ta ke a look at those boxes. They're smashed
The men saw the flattened coal boxes. No one said
anything about the bodies flattened with them.
It was too much for young Leadbetter. "Oh God! Let's
get out of here!" He began to rise. Hands reached out and
pushed him back to the floor. "My grandfather died in
this mine before I was born," he groaned. "Now, it's my
"Let's go in threes/' Maddison said, ignoring Lead-
better. "Well look around a bit, but be damn careful of
Rushton, Milley, and Maddison moved away together,
down towards the 13,400-foot wall. They bumped into
more bodies in the darkness. They stopped, smelled for
gas, moved on again slowly.
"This is as far as we can go. There's no way out in
this direction." Maddison was panting from the exertion
of picking his way over the debris in the cramped space.
"We'd better go back and all stay in one place."
The three retraced their way. They had gone only about
The others had already returned from their explorations
unable to find a way out of the tomb, a space that meas-
ured forty-feet long and sixteen-feet wide.
The twelve men huddled together, waiting, but they
did not know for what.
Finally, Maddison asked, "How are we fixed for water
Nearly a Mile Below 43
"My lunch can is at the top of the section. Well never
get it now/' Milley answered.
"WeVe got to have food and water," Maddison said.
Wilfred Hunter spoke up. "Here's a two-quart can. It's
nearly full." He held it out to Maddison. "God only
knows who it belonged to, but he won't be needing it any
"We've all got to look around. There must be some
lunch boxes," Maddison said.
The men moved away along the mine floor, their lights
poking into every corner. For half an hour they crawled
about and searched.
Gorley Kempt came back with two deviled ham sand-
wiches. The others had not been able to find any food.
"What've we got?" Maddison asked, when the group
assembled once again.
"Almost two quarts of water and a couple of sand-
wiches," Milley said. "That'll keep up going for a while,
but we got to ration everything. Who's got something to
divide the water?"
Eldred Lowther, a miner for twenty-eight years, had
come back with an empty aspirin bottle. "We could use
this," he said. He handed the bottle to Maddison, who put
it beside the water can.
"That makes nearly two quarts of water, two sand-
wiches, and an aspirin bottle. We'll manage for a while,"
Maddison said. He looked over to Caleb Rushton. "What
the hell time is it?"
"Ten minutes to eleven," Rushton said, glancing at his
That was enough to set Leadbetter off again. "Almost
three hours and there's no sign of anyone coming to get
44 Miracle at Springhill
us. We'll never get out of here/' His voice began to rise.
"We'll die in here! They'll never get to us!" He was shout-
ing, but the others ignored him.
"We've got to keep looking for a way out," Milley said.
"McDonald and Michniak will stay together. They're
hurt. Bowsie! Bowsie Maddison! Let's see what we can
"O.K.," Maddison replied. "Let's go." The two men
crawled away again.
Wilfred Hunter, hunched and limping, stumbled off
in the opposite direction.
In twenty minutes they were all back. There was no
way out. They rested. The exertion of searching the shaft
had taxed their strength.
Wilfred Hunter had stretched out on the ground, his
shoes off, his head on a timber. When he felt strong
enough to speak, he said simply, "I found my twin brother.
I was crawling along and saw a body dangling from the
ceiling. It was hard to tell who it was at first, but I know
it was Frank. I reached up and touched him. He was dead
but he was still warm. I tugged at his leg but I couldn't
pull him off the ceiling. I told Frank I was sorry, very
sorry it happened. I said I'd probably be joining him soon.
We were always together. Even though I couldn't see his
face, I knew it was Frank."
The men listened in silence.
"We're probably the only ones left in this whole damn
mine/' Maddison said, breaking the feeling Hunter's story
had aroused in the men. "Why only us?" he asked.
Caleb Rushton spoke up. He felt he could tell the men.
He was only thirty-five, but he had spent many of those
years singing in the choir at the Anglican Church. "God
Nearly a Mile Below 45
meant it that way. Only He can answer why/' Then
Rushton began to sing softly, almost to himself.
I fancy I stood by the shore one day,
Of the beautiful murmuring sea;
I saw the great crowds as they thronged the way
Of the Stranger of Galilee.
Maddison joined Rushton first, then others joined in,
humming softly. For the moment, Joe McDonald and
Teddy Michniak forgot their pain. The men were seeking
an answer to Maddison's question, "Why only us?"
I saw how the man who was blind from birth,
In a moment was made to see;
The lame were made whole by the matchless skill,
Of the Stranger of Galilee.
Twelve men sang together, Catholic and Protestant
alike. Miners, who daily live close to death, live close
And I felt I would love Him forever,
So gracious and tender was He!
I claimed Him that day as my Saviour,
This Stranger of Galilee.
Bowman Maddison had no way of knowing when he
asked, "Why only us?" that not four hundred feet away
at the 13,000-foot wall, but separated by a mass of stone
and coal and timber, other men were alive. They, too,
had come together out of the twisted and torn passage-
Garnet Clarke had been unloading props near the
13,000-foot wall with his buddies, Currie Smith and Herb
46 Miracle at Springhill
Pepperdine. Clarke was heaved into the air, and came
down on top of Pepperdine, knocking the breath from
both. Smith was thrown only to his knees.
Clarke rolled away from Pepperdine and the two men
lay there in the dust, catching their breaths.
"You O.K.?" Clarke asked.
*I think so," Pepperdine answered.
"Where are you, Currie?" Clarke yelled over the noise
of the heaving mine. It had all happened so fast that the
thought never occurred to him that someone might have
been killed. He was alive, and it seemed reasonable that
everyone else was, too.
His light still burned, and he turned in all directions.
Suddenly, in what for him was an awful moment, he saw
the death and destruction. Twisted rails. Smashed boxes.
Bodies that twitched and then lay still.
Currie Smith called. 'Tin down here."
Clarke, searching in the direction of the voice, made
out the faint glimmer of a light through the haze. He
crouched and moved cautiously along the wall. Pepper-
dine scrambled to his knees, then to his feet. They found
Smith a little more than ten feet away. He was not hurt.
"Doug Jewkes is buried," Smith said. "Help me get him
Jewkes was covered by coal and rock up to his waist,
but he spoke calmly. "Give us a hand, fellows."
The three men pulled away debris and dug Jewkes out
of his trap. It was 8:45 P.M.
Maurice Ruddick, father of twelve children, came down
the wall carefully and bumped into Clarke and Smith
and Pepperdine and Jewkes at 9:00 P.M.
Nearly a Mile Below 47
When the bump hit, Ruddick could not move. Coal
from the roof poured down on him. It smashed onto his
helmet and put out his light. It buried him to the waist.
Amid the dust and noise, The Singing Miner reached up
and tried his lamp switch. His light played on the scene
before him. "Oh, my God!" he muttered, offering a silent
He could move his arms. "Now, if only my legs aren't
gone/' he whispered. He dug around his waist, pushing
great lumps of coal away from his body. Beads of perspira-
tion stood out on his forehead. Little by little he moved
away the coal until his waist was free. He bent forward
and pushed more chunks aside until he was clear to his
knees. Finally he was free. For a moment he dared not
move. Then he tried a halting step forward. Then another.
The top of his helmet scratched the roof. He took four
more steps, then collapsed in a heap. The foul air and
the exhaustion were too much.
Then a call brought him back to consciousness. Ruddick
looked at his watch, the one with the luminous dial that
Norma had given him. It was twenty minutes to nine.
"For Christ's sake, someone help me!"
Watching his footing, Ruddick worked his way down
the wall toward the sound. He heard the voice again.
"Get me out of here! My arm's caught. I can't move.
It's terrible. Terrible." The man was sobbing.
It took Ruddick twenty minutes to move through the
debris. Then he met the others. They were trying to free
Percy Rector, whose right elbow was jammed tight in
a shattered wood pack.
Percy Rector just that afternoon feared he had jinxed
48 Miracle at Springhill
himself when he forgot the brass tag for his lamp! He
was imploring the others to free him from the vise.
Pepperdine inched away from the group.
"Where are you going?" Ruddick whispered.
Til be right back."
Ruddick watched him make his way down the wall.
The rangy miner stooped low, moved with short, careful
steps. Ruddick saw him stop a few feet away and break
off the blade of a saw that was caught between two
timbers. Pepperdine could not pull out the handle, so he
brought back the saw blade, holding it behind him.
Ruddick shuffled over to Pepperdine so Rector could
not hear. "I hope we don't have to use that," he said
"I got it just in case. It'll probably be too dangerous.
The shock might kill him. But there's no other way to get
Rector had stopped his pleading. He only groaned, now.
He could not stand, even bent over. The slightest move-
ment tugged the arm, sending knives of pain stabbing
At 9:30 P.M., a body rolled down the slope near the
men, bringing a thick cloud of choking dust.
"I saw your lights but I couldn't move. Gas knocked me
out." It was Frank Hunter, Wilfred's twin brother, not
hanging dead from the ceiling as his brother thought,
but now struggling to his knees and wiping dirt from
his face. He looked carefully into the faces of the other
men, glad he was not alone.
"How many of us here now?" Garnet Clarke asked.
Tve got a piece of chalk in my pocket. Call your names
and 111 write them on the timbers."
Nearly a Mile Below 49
Somebody spoke, but no one asked who it was. The
words were soft. "Sure, put them down good and clear
and save the chalk. We can put the time the gas kills us
beside our names. If they ever find us they'll know how
long we lived."
Clarke ignored the voice. "I'm writing my name now,"
he said, and neatly lettered it on a timber.
"Put down Frank Hunter/' the twin said. "My family
should know what time I died. Wilfred is probably gone
"Put down Maurice Ruddick, and I don't give a damn
what you guys say. I ain't gonna die and neither are you/'
"Doug Jewkes," came another voice.
Clarke lettered the name.
"That makes six of us," Hunter said.
"Hey, don't forget Percy," Ruddick 'called.
Rector could not talk. The pain was too great even
for the exertion of calling out his name.
Clarke added Rector's name to the chalk list. "That
"Yeah, lucky seven," Ruddick said bitterly. Then he
paused and sniffed the air. He sniffed again. "God damn
it," he screamed. "Gas!" He lay back as if accepting death,
eyes closed. The others slowly crumpled to the ground.
Rector's head dropped. He could not fall.
In a moment the area was quiet. It was 10:00 P.M. But
at 10:05, fresh air began to drift up the wall. One by one
the men regained consciousness. "It's clearing," Clarke
said, as if the others did not know it.
50 Miracle at Springhill
"The gas is gonna get us sooner or later," Pepperdine
whispered. "Well all die/'
The men closed their eyes, breathed deeply, and tried
to rest. They could not relax. Death was all around, and
each wondered if he would ever see daylight again. No
one could sleep. Percy Rector's groans kept them on edge.
There was nothing they could do except listen.
At 10:30, Ruddick had enough of trying to relax. "I'm
going to work my way up the timber road toward the
12,600," he announced. Bent over, so that his hands could
touch the ground, he left to seek a way out.
"Dammit," he cursed to himself, after he had gone only
forty feet. "The road's right up to the roof." He dropped
to his knees and then to his stomach and pulled himself
along, looking for an opening in the mass of stone. His
arms ached. His elbows were almost raw from dragging
himself over the jagged ground. His hands were cut and
black dust filled the wounds. He was able to wedge
through a narrow opening but could go no more than
twenty feet before he found the way blocked. The miner
pushed himself backwards. He could not turn around
in the coffin-like confine. It took him half an hour to re-
trace the sixty feet to the others.
They were silent. They knew that if he had found a
way out he would have shouted.
Suddenly, Ruddick started. "Why the hell didn't I
think of it before?" he asked. "I've got a whole box of
aspirins in my pocket. Who else has any?"
The men searched their pockets and the few lunch
cans that were left. They found a total of five aspirins and
handed them to Ruddick.
"Hold on, Perce," Ruddick said as he crawled over to
Nearly a Mile Below 51
the trapped man. "Here, try these. They'll help the pain/'
He handed Rector a dozen aspirins and Rector reached
out for them with his good hand. He could not hold all
twelve and a few rolled out of his grasp, blackening as
they rolled in the dust.
"Never mind/' Ruddick assured him. "There's more.
Now put a couple at a time in your mouth."
Rector placed three aspirins carefully on his tongue.
Ruddick held his water can to Rector's lips and raised
it. "Wash them down good." Rector gagged as the aspirins
went down. He pushed the water can away and put three
more aspirins in his mouth. Again, Ruddick lifted the
water can and Rector drank a great gulp. Once more he
pushed away the water and put the remaining tablets in
"Take a good deep drink," Ruddick said, lifting the
can to Rector's lips.
At 11:30, the aspirins began to work. Rector dozed off,
temporarily relieved of the pain.
"We could all do with some water and something to
eat," Ruddick said after a while. There was no argument.
The men were hungry and their throats burned.
Each man, in turn, took a bite from a sandwich, then
washed it down with the warm water. Nothing stayed
cool in the mine, where the temperature was always close
to eighty degrees, always hot and always stuffy.
"Nothing we can do but wait," Clarke said.
"Well, we can talk, can't we? This quiet is driving me
nuts," Doug Jewkes said. "That'll pass the time. Only,
we're not going any place. I think the bump hit in all
"If it did, that's it. We've had it," Ruddick answered.
52 Miracle at Springhill
"They'll seal us in. They can't get to us and they probably
think everyone's dead anyhow/'
"Don't be foolish/' Clarke said. "Maybe the bump only
hit in this section. Maybe everyone else is out of it.
Maybe we're the only ones that can't get out. Maybe
they're coming close to us right now."
"Maybe, maybe, maybe. You're full of maybes," Jewkes
interrupted. "You don't hear anyone digging for us, do
Ruddick looked toward Clarke. "You could be right,"
he agreed. "I sure hope so." He paused for a moment, still
looking at Clarke. "The good Lord let us live through the
bump. He'll let us live to be rescued."
The men were silent again. They switched off their
lamps to save the batteries. Now the darkness was over-
"What time is it?" someone asked.
Ruddick looked at his watch. The hands were together.
"Midnight," he called. "Why?"
"Nothing," was the reply. "Just wanted to know."
Another voice. "I don't think they're gonna come."
An answer in the darkness. "The good Lord let us live.
Young Garnet Clarke grew nervous, just sitting and
waiting, doing nothing but waiting. "Let's look around for
some water cans and lunch boxes/' he suggested.
Ruddick answered immediately. "Try the other side.
There's nothing toward the 12,600." He heard Clarke
shuffle to his feet. Then he saw the helmet light flash
on. "Wait," he called to Clarke. "I'll go with you." He
pulled himself to his feet.
The two miners moved together in the shaft, climbing
Nearly a Mile Below 53
over bodies, bumping into bodies. They searched around
the dead for water and food.
"Here's a can/' Clarke called.
"I've already found a couple/' Ruddick answered
hoarsely, a few feet away.
They continued slowly, down the waste side of the wall
where it was mostly dirt and rock, a wall they called a
waste, because there was little coal on it. At 175 feet
they stopped. They could go no farther.
"The end of the line/' Ruddick said. "Might as well go
back/' They returned to the others.
"How did we make out?" Ruddick asked, as he gently
deposited his treasure on the ground.
"Let's see," answered Clarke. "There's seven water
cans." He shook each one gently. "There's only a little
bit in them," he said. "And we've got a couple of lunch
boxes." He opened them and poked his hand in each.
"Only a few pieces of broken sandwiches."
"Better than nothing."
Ruddick piled the cans and boxes in a corner. He was
tired. He lay back and closed his eyes. It felt good to
shut them. It helped keep out the darkness.
His mind was drifting. His head spun. For the first
time since the bump, Ruddick thought of home. Things
had happened so quickly, and his world had crashed
down on him with such terrifying suddenness, that he had
forgotten until now.
. . . Norma . . . "Thank God IVe got the insurance.
She'll be able to get by." He felt like crying, just thinking
about it. It was so final, so much the end of everything. He
had increased the policy only a month ago. "I didn't think
she'd collect it so quick." He tried to recall pictures of his
54 Miracle at Springhill
twelve children. They would not come. He tried to re-
member all their names. He could not. "The baby and the
three smaller ones/' he thought, "won't even remember
me when they grow up/' He began to sing softly to him-
self: "I come to the Lord in prayer . . /'
"What was that?" someone asked, startled.
"Just me, singing/' Ruddick answered.
"Let's all hear it, Maurice."
Ruddick raised his voice:
I come to the Lord in prayer,
Though my path is narrow,
I'm not alone,
For I know that my Saviour tarries near , . .
His voice trailed off. "I don't feel much like singing,"
Silence closed again.
Frank Hunter crawled to his knees. One leg pained
him. He switched on his light but everyone looked alike,
their faces black with dust. "I'm gonna take another look
"Better stay put," Ruddick said. "There's nothing either
way. You'll only use up your battery and your strength.
Try to rest/'
"I can't. I keep thinking about my brothers. They're
probably both dead."
But the brothers were alive.
At that same moment-2:00 A.M. of the second day-
Percy Hunter was picking through a clogged shaft in
search of bodies. With a rescue crew of "barefaced" men,
Nearly a Mile Below 55
Percy, who so recently had escaped from the 13,400-foot
level, was searching for his brothers.
Wilfred Hunter was with the eleven survivors of the
13,000-foot level, four hundred feet away from his twin,
Frank. But they were separated by a wall of stone and
timber and coal. And Wilfred was sure he had seen and
touched Frank's dead body, crushed into the roof.
There Is N[o Hope
In the early morning of Friday, October 24, more Draeger-
men arrived from the towns of Stellarton, Sydney Mines,
and New Glasgow, where the company also operated
mines; they reported to the Draeger House and were
assigned their shifts.
Now giant floodlights played on the pithead. The fire
department had set up emergency lighting. Civil defense
units brought in more lights and loudspeakers. Ambu-
lances from Saint John and Amherst lined up on the
grounds. Panel trucks belonging to local merchants were
pressed into service as ambulances, in case a wholesale
rescue operation developed. The Royal Canadian Air
Force sent a helicopter from Halifax with blood supplies
for the hospital. Soldiers arrived in trucks to help the
local police patrol the streets and keep order at the
mine. But, there was no need to keep order at the mine.
There Is No Hope 57
The people knew what had to be done. Every action,
word, and thought was directed at only one objective:
Kathleen Burton fidgeted with the pair of socks she
was knitting for the Red Cross. Her sister-in-law, Mrs.
Katharine Beaton, had arrived shortly after 2:00 A.M.
The oldest Burton boy, Billy, was at the pithead, waiting.
Young Gary sat up, listening to radio reports of the bump,
meager as they were.
"Don't worry, Kay. Charlie did it before and hell do it
again. He'll lead out another bunch of men. Just wait and
see/' Mrs. Beaton tried to reassure her sister-in-law.
Kay managed a weak smile. She did not answer.
"That's right, Mom. Don't worry," Gary said. "Dad'll
be all right. Please don't worry."
"I can't go to the pithead this time. I just can't," Kay
whispered. "That waiting there. Just waiting and not
"No one is asking you to go. You're better off here at
home. When there's news, they'll let you know." Mrs.
Beaton put her hand on the folded hands of her sister-
in-law and squeezed.
The women looked at each other for a long time. The
same thought ran through their minds. Would they ever
see the man they loved alive again?
At 2:30 Judy Milley remembered something, and told
her mother. "When Daddy said 'Goodbye' to me at school
yesterday, it made me feel funny." The young girl could
not explain. "Mom, I'm going down there. I just can't
58 Miracle at Springhill
Velda Milley knew her daughter's anguish. She wished
she could go to the pithead and wait, to be that much
closer to Levi. But waiting, watching the rescue crews,
was more than she could take. If bad news was to come,
she would much rather hear it at home.
"All right, dear. Go ahead/' Velda could not tell her
daughter to remain at home. The child had a right to be
there. "Take something warm and be careful/' she said.
"Don't get in anyone's way, and please, please, be home
"I will, Mom," the girl said confidently. "And I'll bring
home some good news."
Judy put on a warm coat and tied a kerchief about
her head. She walked into the kitchen, past the school
books still open on the oval table, and out the back door.
Her mother stood in the doorway, watching her dis-
appear into the darkness.
At 2:45, the lights in Bowman Maddison's home were
still on. Alden sat by his mother, listening to the radio
reports. The set was turned down low so as not to awaken
the baby asleep upstairs.
The twelve-year-old boy put his arm around his
mother's waist and gave her a hug. "Zora will be home
soon," he said. "She'll bring us good news." Another child
reassuring his parent with a promise of good news. A
child, yet now an adult, too, as were so many other chil-
dren of Springhill suddenly.
Maddison's daughter had raced from the house minutes
after the bump. She had not returned, and now Solange
worried about this too.
Alden again made an effort to comfort his mother.
There Is No Hope 59
"God wouldn't give you the new baby and take Daddy
away from us, would he?"
Garnet Clarke's brother, Harold, returned home from
the pithead, his face flushed with anxiety. At 3:00 A.M.,
his family was still awake.
"There was no use waiting there/' he told his wife.
"I saw Garnie's car parked in the lot," he added, choking
back a catch in his voice. "I could have driven it home
with my set of keys, but I just couldn't. I felt as if it would
be too final/'
Lorraine looked at her husband and then at her father-
in-law. She spoke to her husband. "Leave the car there.
He'll be up soon and drive it home himself."
She did not believe it. She did not know what to believe
but she had to say something encouraging.
Thomas Clarke got up from the couch and walked to
the closet iri the hallway.
"Where you going, Dad?" Harold asked.
"Leave him alone," Lorraine whispered to her husband.
The sixty-seven-year-old Clarke took out his heavy
coat and silently put it on. He found his tweed cap and,
holding it in his hand, turned. "We're not all here. I'm
going down there and wait for my other son."
He left the house, to walk more than a mile to the mine.
Twelve-year-old Colleen Ruddick waited at the pit-
head. There was no news to bring home to her mother.
Her father, Maurice, was still somewhere in the ground.
Standing by herself at 3:30 in the morning, the young
girl had watched the lucky ones come to the surface. She
knew that in the hours immediately following the bump,
60 Miracle at Springhill
many men had made their own way to the surface. She
knew, too, by listening to the people talk, that some men
had escaped alive from the 13,400-foot level She saw
ambulances leaving, carrying rescued men to be examined
at All Saints Hospital.
Seventy men in all had made the surface by 3:00 A.M.
Since that time no one had been brought up. The girl
began to sob quietly to herself. She turned from the glare
of the searchlights. She did not want anyone to see her
crying; she was the oldest of the twelve children and she
should not cry.
A small arm circled her waist as she stood there in the
drizzle, and the girl jumped. It was her sister, Sylvia.
"Mama wants me to stay here with you/'
The two girls waited side by side for their father.
Just before dawn, Margaret Guthro rubbed her red-
rimmed eyes and looked up at the sky. The sun would
not shine today, she thought.
Hugh Guthro's wife looked about her at the others
standing huddled in the drizzle, not moving, scarcely
breathing. The black ground was muddy and turning to a
sickly ooze. The other women's shoes were splattered.
She did not bother to look at her own. She watched a line
of Draegermen trudging slowly, silently, out of the mine.
Their faces were black with dirt and coal dust.
Margaret moved forward a step with the other women.
All wanted to question the Draegermen. They wanted to
find out about their men. Did the rescue crews see them?
Was there a chance? But no one spoke. The line of
Draegermen passed them by, each man looking straight
There Is No Hope 61
"I'd better go home. I'm so very tired. The children will
be looking for me/' Margaret Guthro said to herself.
She knew that her sister-in-law, Dot, had been awake
all the night, watching over Linda and Jerry.
She turned away from the scene and walked slowly
down the muddy road for home.
Dawn. A Draegerman rested in the Wash House. He
had eaten a sandwich and gulped down a steaming con-
tainer of coffee. The exhausted man stretched out on a
cot, fully clothed, and stared up at the ceiling. The man
on the cot next to him also stared. Then, he spoke.
"You know, there just can't be any more alive in there.
Those guys who got out at the beginning . . . they were
sure lucky. Next time we go back down it'll be just for
The second man did not answer. He had fallen asleep.
At 5:30, Bill Totten, one of the "lucky ones" who had
escaped during the first hours after the bump, held an
informal press conference in the Wash House. Totten, a
miner for twenty-seven years, had made it safely to the
surface from the 13,400-foot level and then immediately
plunged back into the depths to help look for his buddies.
Now, he was back on the surface.
"You can't imagine what it's like down there," he told
newspaper people from all parts of Canada and the
United States. "Crawling through a little hole just big
enough to pass through. Every time there's a rumble,
or a stone falls, you get ready for another bump. That
would finish us. The heat and the smell . . . digging out
those bodies. It's awful. . . ."
62 Miracle at Springhill
Totten was interrupted by Stan Pashkoski, another
rescue worker. "I only wish they would let one newspaper-
man go into the mine. Then he could tell the whole out-
side world what it's like down there/' He paused to catch
"There's no room down there. I have cuts all up my arm
from scraping it on the rock/' He pulled up his sleeve to
show the cuts covered with black dust.
"We crawl along in a line, about a dozen of us. It takes
a long time, sometimes a whole shift of eight hours, to
go a couple of feet."
The reporters took hasty notes. No one interrupted.
They let the miner get it off his chest.
"I may be crazy," Pashkoski continued, "but I still have
hopes there will be somebody alive down on the 13,000-
foot wall. The way I feel about it is that if it's like the
13,400 and the 13,800 there might be four or five fellows
alive at one end of the wall.
"Anytime now, somebody might drive his shovel in
and find an opening with men in it. But then we might
come up against solid rock, too." The miner had finished
talking. There was silence.
At 5:40 P.M. at the pithead, word came from below
that the first body, the first dead body, was on the way
to the surface. Up to this time there had been the living,
the rescued, the men who were able to tell their stories.
Now, the awful and terrifying impact of the disaster
would strike home. Proof was coming to the surface that
there were dead men below.
"Oh God, don't let him be my man!" The women
offered silent prayers. Until a body came up, as long as
There Is No Hope 63
the man was not found, then there was no reality. There
was always that slim thread of hope.
At 5:45, a Draegerman appeared at the pithead and
signalled to the police and the army to keep the people
from surging forward. An ambulance moved up to the
entrance, its motors shattering the deathly silence that
had fallen over the crowd. Two more Draegermen, carry-
ing a stretcher, stood outlined at the pithead. White-
coated ambulance drivers, their uniforms in startling
contrast to the garb of the blackened rescue workers,
hastily flung open the door of the ambulance. The body
on the stretcher was covered with a blanket.
Someone at the pithead whispered, "It's Harry Halli-
One name. It spread quickly through the waiting crowd.
A piercing shriek echoed above the murmuring of the
"Oh God! No! No. Harry! Harry!"
Men rushed to the cry. Gentle hands led Eva Halliday
away. The ambulance, carrying the body of fifty-three-
year-old Harry James Halliday, sped away to Canadian
Legion Hall, now converted into a makeshift morgue. The
Neighbors took Mrs. Halliday back to her home at 181
Main Street. It was a short ride from the pithead at the
foot of Main Street. A short ride in terms of distance.
An endless ride for the widow.
The tears had stopped for Eva Halliday as she walked
slowly in the front door of her home.
Her husband's blind seventy-four-year-old mother was
sitting in the living room. Beside her on the couch were
64 Miracle at Springhill
Harrys two step-daughters, Dorothy and Marjorie, The
room was still as Eva Halliday entered.
She sat down, without taking off her coat. She was
tired. So very tired. It seemed as if she had been waiting
for this moment ever since Harry first entered the mines,
eighteen years ago. Now the waiting was over.
"It was Harry, wasn't it?" the blind woman asked,
knowing the answer. The old woman could not see, but
she did not need eyes for this to feel the presence of
Eva Halliday looked around the room and spoke, to no
one in particular. "Call Reverend McConnelL Well have
the funeral this Sunday/'
At 6:30 A.M., Harold C. M. Gordon, Vice-President and
General Manager of the Dominion Coal Company, drove
his automobile onto the mine grounds. He had left his
home in Sydney, three hundred miles away, many hours
before. His back ached from the long drive. His eyes
burned from lack of sleep. But he paused only long
enough to change quickly into a Draegerman's outfit. In
a few moments he was below ground.
When the bump occurred Gordon had been immedi-
ately notified by telephone at his home. He called his wife,
Dorothy. "Pack a bag. They've had a bad bump at Spring-
For Gordon it was a repetition of the 1956 explosion,
when he went with rescue crews into No. 4 pit, directed
operations, cleared deadly gas, exhausted himself. Now
he would do it again.
Dorothy called that his bag was ready. Just a few things.
She knew what these calls meant.
There Is No Hope 65
"Be careful, dear/' she told him at the front door.
He kissed her and said, Til try. It's bad there."
Dorothy did not ask questions. She gave her husband
a hug before he walked out the door.
Gordon threw his bag in the back seat of the car, got
in, and began the drive to Springhill.
By 10:30 A.M., eighty-one men had been brought to the
surface alive. One man, Harry Halliday, was now known
dead. Ninety-two men were still unaccounted for, some-
where in the twisted and shattered mine. Ninety-two tags
still hung on Harry Weatherbee's board, the figure un-
changed since before dawn. No one had been brought up
alive or found alive since that time.
Also at 10:30, Harold Gordon, his face blackened with
grime, came to the surface. He did not stop to speak to
anyone, but walked tiredly to the Wash House to try to
scrub some of the dirt away. But he cpuld not wash away
what he had seen.
C. Arnold Patterson, public relations director for the
Dominion Steel and Coal Company, had flown to the
scene from his office in Montreal. He joined Gordon in
the Wash House.
"Arnie, you might as well call a press conference for an
hour from now. I've got some bad news/'
Patterson nodded. He began contacting the 137 news-
paper people, telling them to be in the company office
at 11:30 A.M.
The reporters gathered in the office, prepared for the
bad news. In a mood of somberness, they exchanged
stories of the tragedy, things they had heard in the crowd,
things they had seen.
66 Miracle at Springhill
One man told how he had found a small boy wandering
aimlessly about the mine grounds.
"What's the trouble, sonny?" he had asked.
"I'm looking for my Daddy."
"Where is he?"
"He's in the mine. He hasn't come up yet."
The reporter found himself fighting back tears. "Well, I
think you'd better go home."
"No, no!" the boy had said. "I don't want to go home.
Everybody's crying there."
The reporters listened. The words of a small boy, who
was frightened about his father but reluctant to return
home, had summed up one aspect of the tragedy.
Patterson entered the room. "Mr. Gordon is on his way,"
he said. "Let him talk first. Then, if you have any ques-
tions, he'll try and answer them for you."
Patterson continued, speaking softly. "While we're
waiting, I think you might like to know that Her Majesty,
Queen Elizabeth II, has sent a message to Springhill by
way of Governor General Vincent Massey. She expresses
her concern and asks to be kept informed of all develop-
ments here." The reporters took notes.
Harold Gordon entered the room and joined Patterson.
The two men faced the group. Patterson raised his hands.
"Let's have it quiet, please. This is Mr. Harold Gordon."
Gordon faced the crowd. The usual ruddiness of his
face was gone and in its place was gray pallor. He looked
older than his fifty-nine years. He seemed shorter than
his six feet two inches. There were still traces of coal dust
under his eyes and at the corners of his mouth. He had
washed in a hurry.
There Is No Hope 67
"I have just returned from the mine," he said slowly and
softly. "I have bad news."
The room hushed.
"There are no more men alive at the 13,000- and
13,800-foot levels. The 13,000 wall was cut off. There are
tremendous piles of debris in every approach. For the
men in there, there may be some hope. But I say that
only because we haven't seen them. The way things look,
those still listed as missing must be presumed dead. There
is virtually no hope left. That is all I can tell you now."
Tears had clouded Gordon's eyes. Patterson stepped
forward. "Are there any questions?" he asked.
There were none. There was nothing to ask.
Gordon left the conference to return to the mine.
The news was immediately flashed to the world. But
families whose men were still underground refused to
believe Gordon's words.
The crowd at the pithead did not dwindle. A body,
a dead body, was the only way they would be convinced.
Draegermen continued to push forward for the men that
had to be brought out, dead or alive.
More people continued to pour into the town during
the day. Nova Scotia Premier Robert L. Stanfield arrived
with Labor Minister Stephen Pyke, Lieutenant-Governor
E. C. Plow, and Mines Minister A. E. Manson. They talked
to rescue workers. They toured the area. They sympa-
thized. But there was nothing they could do.
More rescue units of the Red Cross arrived from Saint
John; from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Truro
and Amherst, Nova Scotia. The Saint John Ambulance
Nursing Division in Mtmcton, New Brunswick, sent a
68 Miracle at Springhill
mobile twenty-five-bed hospital. It arrived at noon. The
equipment was divided between the armories and the
Clothing began to come in from all parts of Canada.
By now, seventy Draegermen were going down into the
mine in each shift, working from various approaches.
When they came to the surface their clothing was black
and sweaty. Constant changes of clothing were needed.
The afternoon wore on slowly as the Draegermen and
"barefaced" men continued their work in the pit, only to
emerge weary and bruised and heartsick.
By late afternoon, more bodies began to reach the
surface. More dead bodies. More proof. Edward Bobbie
came up-dead. So did Cecil Cole, Harold McNutt, and
Hiram Hunter. The men had spent most of their lives
working in the mine.
In the early evening Draegermen, "barefaced" men,
and company officials returned to the surface. They agreed
there was no one left alive at the 13,800-foot level or in
that part of the 13,400 level to which they had gained
access. Nothing was known about conditions at 13,000.
Rescue crews could not break through.
A "barefaced" worker told how his shift in six back-
breaking hours had succeeded in getting up the 13,400
wall only as far as the second stone wall, a distance of
one hundred feet.
During the evening, crews were sent into the 12,600
level in spite of the heavy gas still hanging there. The men
tried to reach the isolated 13,000 wall. A fresh air base
was set up underground, about five hundred feet from
the back slope. Men without masks were not allowed
beyond this spot.
There Is No Hope 69
When the Draegermen reached the point in the level
where the floor had been forced up so hard that it jammed
the haulage rails against the roof, they had to crawl on
their stomachs on the high side of the packs in the 12,600
area. Their paths twisted and turned, by-passing areas
where it was impossible to get through.
By late evening, the drizzle above ground had turned
to steady rain, transforming the already sodden ground
into a sea of black mud. Still the people waited. They
stood with umbrellas in the mud and waited.
They waited all day and into the night. No more men
were brought up alive. No more men were sighted below
alive. Nothing was heard below, except the sounds of the
rescue workers, and the inanimate noises of the mine.
These, The Living
Thursday slipped into Friday. And at the 13,000-foot level
twelve men dozed and awakened and moved restlessly,
vainly, to find a way out of the trap.
In the morning, Levi Milley stirred and blinked his
eyes. Morning? It was black as pitch. He had forgotten
where he was for the moment. As he felt about in the
darkness, his hand brushed a leg. The leg twitched, there
was a groan. Heavy breathing and the smell of men and
coal brought back the living nightmare. This was reality.
He was still in the mine. It was not a dream.
His stomach churned. The churning always came in the
morning. But Velda and Judy were always there to have
breakfast with him. Thank God they weren't here.
He heard the others begin to move about and he
switched on his lamp. The light played on the shiny black
walls and the jagged roof. Joe McDonald was still in the
same position on the rock pile, his face contorted in pain
from his broken hip. Teddy Michniak, despite his broken
These, The Living 71
shoulder, lay next to McDonald, talking gently. "Take it
easy, Joe. Well be all right." McDonald bit down hard
on his lip and did not answer.
Milley crawled over. "How are you feeling, Teddy?"
"It hurts like hell, but not as bad as Joe, here." Michniak
nodded toward McDonald, who stared straight ahead,
trying to bear the pain and not cry out.
"Levi, I don't think well make it out of here." Michniak,
oldest of the twelve men, said it matter-of-factly. He
Joe McDonald heard him. "Don't worry, well get out,"
McDonald said, rubbing his hand across his forehead.
"I can take it and so can you guys. Somebody will come
and get us."
McDonald's reassuring words prompted one of the
group to ask, "Why don't we have something to eat?"
"What time is it?" Bowman Maddison broke in. A few
of the men snickered when Maddison said, "I always have
a late breakfast."
"Rushton's got a watch, ask him," Milley answered.
Maddison turned to Rushton, but did not interrupt the
prayer the latter was beginning.
Our Father who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name . . .
The men heard faint snatches and joined Rushton,
praying softly. Their fervent "Amen" echoed through the
"What time is it, Caleb?" Maddison asked.
Rushton looked at his watch. "Almost nine o'clock/*
Maddison grinned. "I never get up this early."
72 Miracle at Springhill
"Let's eat/' a voice implored.
"What will you have, one or two eggs with your
bacon?" It was Maddison again, but this time no one ap-
preciated his humor.
Levi Milley was already busy cutting a sandwich into
twelve parts. He moved closer to Joe McDonald and
Teddy Michniak and handed them their meager portions.
"Here's breakfast/' he said. Then he handed the others
Each man nibbled and chewed slowly.
Levi Milley measured out water in Eldred Lowther's
aspirin bottle and passed it around. Not a drop was
wasted. The bottle held less than a mouthful, but as each
man received his share he swished it around in his mouth.
At least it loosened some of the dust on his teeth and
tongue. Then he swallowed, letting the tepid fluid trickle
slowly down his throat.
Wilfred Hunter, his twisted leg paining him, struggled
to his feet and crouched against the ceiling. "I'm gonna
look around some more," he announced. He switched on
his light and stumbled off into the darkness.
The weak rays from his dim lamp did not help much.
He tripped repeatedly over piles of rock. Each time, he
winced, pulled himself up, and kept going. It seemed a
thousand miles, but he knew where he was headed. When
he got there, he reached up to touch the body he thought
was his dead brother.
"Frank. It's Wilfred. I told you I'd be back. I won't
leave you/* He gently stroked the leg. He could not reach
the face. The miner remained there for half an hour,
talking, patting the leg, assuring his twin that everything
would turn out all right. Then he stumbled back and
These, The Living 73
joined the others. No one asked him where he had been.
No one needed to ask.
Bowman Maddison, Levi Milley, and Hugh Guthro
switched on their lamps and began to move around in the
shaft. Their lights were beginning to fail but they had to
continue to search for a way out. Traces of gas still clung
to the ceiling and they had to retreat. They changed
direction, moving slowly and carefully.
"Jesus, look at that pan engine!" Maddison exclaimed.
The engine had smashed into the roof of the mine and
dropped back again. The rails on which it once rode were
twisted like spaghetti.
"There's someone on the engine!" Milley exclaimed.
His light had picked up a form draped over the wreckage.
The men crawled quickly. Milley reached out and felt
for a pulse. He looked closely at the face. "It's George
Canning/' he said. "He's gone. Must have been thrown
up to the roof with the engine."
They left Canning where they found him. Then they
crept back to the others, but did not report what they
had found. It would serve no useful purpose, now.
Once more everyone switched off the dwindling lamps.
There were precious few hours left in the batteries.
In the darkness, Larry Leadbetter called. "Guthro . . .
Hughie Guthro ... Joe Holloway."
The two men answered.
"You fellows were in the 1956 thing. Do you think
there's a chance for us to get out of here?"
Guthro answered first, sympathetically. "My wife Mar-
garet is waiting for me. She waited two years ago and I
made it. She's waiting now. She knows I'll get out. We all
74 Miracle at Springhill
"Sure, sure, just relax and wait. Well make it," Hollo-
way answered, in his usually gruff voice.
The reassurance seemed to satisfy the twenty-two-year-
The day wore on. The men removed their shoes, trying
to get comfortable. They slept, awakened, then slept some
more. They did little talking.
Suddenly, in the late afternoon, Maddison cried out,
Everyone snapped awake.
"Be quiet! I hear something!" Maddison ordered.
The men listened.
"Don't you hear it?" Maddison pleaded for someone to
hear. "It's vibration! They're using chipper picks. They're
coming after us!"
"I can hear it, too," Milley said, his voice rising with
excitement. "Shh. Listen."
Somehow the sounds of the chipper picks used by the
rescue crews had reached them. But, in a few moments,
the chatter died away. Silence, emptier even than before,
crushed in on the men.
"They've probably knocked off for the weekend," some-
one said. "They figure there's no hurry. Everybody is
Day became night. It was all the same in the darkness.
The men finished another sandwich and divided more of
their water in the aspirin bottle.
Saturday dawned, pitch-black. The men did not have to
be awakened. They had not slept during the night, listen-
ing for more vibrations, noise that did not come.
Levi Milley thought about dying. Would it be hunger
or thirst? A bump would be better, quicker. He thought
These, The Living 75
about his wife, Velda, and his daughter, Judy. He felt
like screaming and crying. He would not live to see his
pretty little girl grow up.
Bowman Maddison was glad that his friend Jimmy
Demetre was the godfather of the new baby. Demetre
would look after Solange and the children. TU never see
them again" Bowman said, almost aloud.
Caleb Rushton began his hymn once more.
In fancy I stood by the shore one day,
Of the beautiful murmuring sea . . .
His voice was peaceful and soothing.
The men listened and hummed. Soon they fell into
In the evening, Gorley Kempt left the group for a
search of his own. He returned with a battered lunch can
he had stumbled over in the darkness. The can had pieces
of a sandwich in it, supper for twelve.
The pain in Joe Holloway's leg had deadened and he
felt better. Quietly, he told the men stories about hunting
deer, even his special spots. "There's a swell spot behind
the old Intercolonial Railway, just outside town/' he re-
vealed. "It's only about three or four miles in the woods.
When we get out of here, well all go hunting together/ 7
Holloway's words had a relaxing effect. One by one the
men dropped off to sleep. Saturday had ended.
At the top of the 13,000-foot wall, cut off from the group
of twelve by a barrier of rock and coal, more men strug-
gled for survival
The seven had slept fitfully, but were awake when
Friday morning came.
76 Miracle at Springhill
Maurice Ruddick slid over to Percy Rector who groaned
and cried out without realizing it. Gently, Ruddick shook
him into consciousness.
Rector blinked his eyes, but did not speak.
"Might as well give him the last of the aspirins," Rud-
dick said to himself. "Here, Perce, take these/' He handed
Rector four aspirins, which the trapped miner took silently
and put in his mouth. Ruddick held a water can to Rector's
lips. "Hungry?" Ruddick asked. Rector nodded. "HI get
you something," Ruddick said, and crawled away. He
returned shortly with a piece of sandwich, which Rector
The other men also nibbled on pieces of sandwich, and
put some away for the next day. Their water supply was
now down to less than a quart.
"Please God," Ruddick offered a silent prayer, "help
us the best You can."
Garnet Clarke was weary of searching for a way out.
"I'm gonna take it easy," he said. "Just gonna wait for
them to come and get us." He sighed and lay back on the
ground, his back resting on a wood pile.
No one made a move now to find a road to the surface.
They sat, or lay, waiting in the dark. Some asked them-
selves how long it would be before rescue. Others won-
dered when they would die.
The last four aspirins had little effect on Rector. The
pain was too great. "I can't stand it any more!" he
screamed suddenly. His voice, normally deep, was shrill.
It shot through the men like a stabbing icicle. "Please,
please, for God's sake, do something for me!" he pleaded.
"Cut off the arm. It's no damn good any more. Just get
me out of this. I'm begging." His body twitched with sobs
These, The Living 77
and convulsions. Then, mercifully, he lapsed into un-
For several minutes the others sat where they were,
shaken by Rector's ordeal, not uttering a sound.
Finally, Pepperdine crept over to Ruddick. "What do
you think? I've got the saw/'
"Let's talk to the others," Ruddick answered, a cold
shiver quivering down the back of his neck.
The rest knew the purpose of the conference. Auto-
matically they huddled close.
"It might kill him," Clarke whispered.
"He just can't take any more," Pepperdine said. "At
least we can get him out of there and bring him in closer
here with us. We could bandage up the stump with our
"I don't know. I don't know," Ruddick muttered. "If we
did it and he died and then we're rescued an hour later,
how would we feel? We can't take his life in our hands."
"Why don't we vote on it?" Clarke suggested.
"Voting on a man's life?" The idea shocked Ruddick.
"We don't have the right. That's for the Lord to decide."
"Well, we've got to do something," Clarke answered.
"He's right," Pepperdine agreed. "We've got to do some-
Ruddick gave in reluctantly. "All right, let's vote. But
remember, someone has got to do the job if we vote 'yes.' "
The men shuddered and grew silent, ech struggling
with his own thoughts.
"Ready?" Ruddick asked, breaking the silence.
For a moment no one spoke.
"I say no," Ruddick began.
"No," voted Clarke.
78 Miracle at Springhill
"No/* said Jewkes.
"I vote no/' said Smith.
"No," Hunter voted.
The men waited to hear from Pepperdine. The sound
of their heavy breathing was shattered by another scream
of pain from Rector.
Pepperdine had now decided. "Damn it, no!" He sobbed
as he spoke. "He's only half-alive now, but you're right.
We'd probably kill him." He paused. "I vote no!"
The count was complete. Percy Rector would remain
in his trap, his arm crushed in a vise of wood.
The men sat in silence again, emotionally exhausted.
They heard only faint scratchings in the distance. "Those
damn rats!" Clarke commented. "They're all around us!"
This time, however, the scratching was not mine rats.
It was a man clawing for his life, desperately trying to
tear his way out of a shallow hole.
Byron Martin Barney, they called him was fighting
for survival alone. He had been alone since the bump.
The force of the upheaval had hurled Martin down the
longwall face at the 13,000 level. His lamp had been
blown off his head, and he was pinned between two stone
packs by a fall of rocks. There, he lapsed into uncon-
sciousness in the cavity between the packs, rocks piled
at his feet, over his legs, under his waist, and only inches
from where his head rested in the black dirt.
When the rumbling and the screaming died and the
dust had settled, he did not hear the voices of the others,
the seven men only one hundred feet down the wall. He
did not hear Percy Rector's screams echo off the walls.
Barney Martin lay in this position, alone, unconscious,
These, The Living 79
through the night, separated from the others by a wall of
At 5:00 A.M., Friday, Martin finally awoke. His mouth
was filled with dirt he had sucked in during the night. He
tried to moisten his lips but his tongue was caked and
dry. He looked about, but saw nothing in the blackness.
He reached up for his helmet light; it was gone. He tried
to move his legs; the rocks on top held them fast. He
moved his hands. More rock. He tore at the unyielding
rocks, trying to grip something to pull himself free. Only
dust and loose stones tumbled back toward him.
Martin was hungry now. He felt for his lunch can, but
it was gone. He felt for his water can hanging from a
hook on his belt It was still there! He grabbed it and
shook it frantically. It was about a quarter-full. He twisted
off the top and drank a great gulp. How long had he been
trapped? He did not even remember what day it was. He
clawed at the rock repeatedly. He tried to grab something
firm, but everything slipped from him. Gas swirled into
the shaft and hung from the roof, dropping slowly down.
The gas knocked him into unconsciousness again. He
slumped forward, face now in the dirt.
Martin did not realize he was in a hole of familiar
shape six feet long and three feet deep.
Sometime Saturday morning, he regained consciousness
in his lonely, black pit. Once more Martin began clawing.
His legs were numb. The skin on his fingertips was raw
and bleeding, the nails split and broken. Coal dust and
dirt was imbedded in his face. He rubbed tiny black
fragments from his eyes. They burned and itched. He
grabbed at his water can and drained it in one mouthful,
then retched and threw up the liquid. His stomach ached
80 Miracle at Springhill
from lack of food. His head felt light. He fell unconscious,
At 10:00 A.M., Saturday, Garnet Clarke decided he had
rested enough. He thought he had slept soundly through
the night and early morning, although he did not re-
member waking or falling asleep. "How's about some
food?" he called. He had forgotten how much was left.
'There's only three sandwiches," Ruddick answered,
"and damn little water." He was silent for a moment.
"Well have one sandwich today and another one tomor-
row. If we're still here on Monday, God forbid, well
have the last one." He repeated the words to himself.
"// were still here on Monday . . " He counted the days.
"Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday." He
cursed softly under his breath. "By Monday, well prob-
ably all be dead!"
"Might as well look around for some food," Clarke said.
He turned to Ruddick. "Maurice, is there any place we
haven't looked? Any place you think there might be a
"WeVe been all over," Ruddick answered. "There's no
way out and there's no food." Then he added, "Probably
no way in, either."
Clarke pointed to a mass of debris a short distance
away. "What about that wall?"
Ruddick knew where Clarke meant. "Go ahead if you
want to. It's probably blocked solid behind it."
Clarke was still hopeful. "It might be loose at the top."
Ruddick was irritable. "Well, go ahead if you want to.
I'm staying here this time. Be careful. If you pull out a
These, The Living 81
piece of rock too fast, it might send the whole wall sliding
Clarke wanted company. He called to his buddy, Currie
Smith. "Want to come along, Currie?"
Smith answered by slowly getting up from the floor.
In a squatting position he switched on his lamp. He swore.
"This thing's getting weaker and weaker. It's only got
about an hour left."
"Mine too, but the hell with it," Clarke answered. "Let's
The pair left, the rays from their lamps barely lighting
the way. Carefully, they moved to the top of the debris
at the roof and began trying to pick their way through.
They pulled with their hands and twisted their fingers
into every inch-wide opening, hoping to loosen just a bit
of stone. They flattened themselves on their bellies and
forced their bodies into places where it seemed no human
could fit Clarke wiggled his fingers between two rocks
and yanked. The rocks came away.
"Over here!" he yelled to Smith. "It's loose here!"
Smith scurried over. The two men worked side by side
until they had made an opening for themselves. They
crawled through, barely able to squeeze in. What they
found was a body.
"Who is it?" Smith asked, as he shone his light on the
figure. "Whoever it is must be dead."
Clarke reached under the body and gently lifted the
face from the dirt. "It's Barney Martin."
Martin heard his name and it summoned him back to
consciousness. "Hello," he mumbled and once more fell
82 Miracle at Springhill
"It doesn't look as if he's got long to go," Clarke said.
"Let's try to work him loose anyway/'
The men pulled the jagged rocks from Martin's legs.
They moved away the debris that dug into his sides and
rearranged him in a more comfortable position. All the
time, he did not regain consciousness.
The air was now clear where Martin lay and Clarke
and Smith decided to leave him there. To move him
might cause injury. And there was no escape. Even if they
could drag him out of the hole, they would not be able
to push him through the narrow opening at the top of
Slowly they worked their way back to the others.
"There's eight of us now/' Clarke announced when they
returned. "We found Barney Martin, but it doesn't look
as if he's gonna last much longer. I don't know how he
lasted this long."
No one said much. Martin, they figured, might be better
off than they.
During the day, the men tried their lamps to see if they
still worked. One by one, the lights flickered and died.
For the first time, complete darkness engulfed them.
Maurice Ruddick spent the evening pressing his body
hard against the rocks. Pain was reality. Reality meant
he was still alive.
During the night he felt a hand reach over and touch
his. It was someone merely wanting to feel the touch of
another live human. Neither spoke.
Just before midnight, Percy Rector screamed in pain.
The men shuddered, but remained silent.
Then a vibration in the distance brought them to at-
These, The Living 83
"Do you hear it?" Clarke asked in a whisper, trying not
to drown the sound.
The others strained to hear.
"I hear something/' Ruddick answered, scarcely breath-
ing. His heart pounded. "They haven't forgotten us! They
must be coming for us!"
"I can't hear a thing," Frank Hunter said. Actually,
he was afraid to listen, afraid that if he heard, too, the
sound would disappear.
"They'll never get here in time," Pepperdine said dis-
consolately. "They sound far away. They're probably not
even hurrying. You don't hurry for dead men."
It was as if Pepperdine's pessimism drove away the
sound. The vibrations died.
"Tomorrow is Sunday," Ruddick said calmly, watching
the hands on his watch come close to midnight. "We'll
In the Hands of God
The weather had turned cool and a few straggling clouds
drifted lazily across the sky as Sunday began for those
on the surface.
Eighty-one men were saved. The same figure had held
since Friday morning. No survivor had been brought up
since, though the death toll was rising. It stood now at
eleven. And eighty-two men were still missing in the
Kathleen Burton had not left her house since Thursday
night. She waited and prayed at home, cleaned house and
prepared meals for her boys. Gary, the youngest, stayed
home with her, helping with the chores and running
errands. Billy, the eldest, divided his time between the
pithead and home, where he brought the latest reports
and rumors to his mother and her sister-in-law, Katherine
This morning Sunday Kathleen planned to leave the
house for the first time, to go to Mass. She knew she would
In the Hands of God 85
have to go early. St. John's would be crowded today. All
of SpringhilFs eight churches would be crowded. The
Anglican, Baptist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Roman Cath-
olic, Salvation Army, and the two houses of the United
Church of Canada would be filling with sad, strained
Billy Burton felt uncomfortable in his best suit. Getting
all fancied up, even to go to church, was not to his liking.
Kay Burton told her sister-in-law that she did not feel
like putting on even a faint trace of lipstick.
"It's been almost four days now," she said, as the two
women put on their coats in the hallway. There was no
need for an answer.
Kathleen called to her sons. They joined her at the
front door and Billy handed his mother the small family
Bible. Then they walked from the house to church.
Velda Milley had not left her home > since Thursday
night either. Judy had made several trips to the mine
but each time the girl returned home with little news and
less encouragement. Judy decided not to return to the
pithead anymore but to remain with her mother.
On Sunday morning, Velda still did not feel like leaving
the house, even to go to church.
"Ill say my prayers here/' she told her daughter. Then,
irrelevantly, "Did you take care of your father's chickens?''
"Yes, Mom, I fed them and I brought in the eggs," Judy
answered. "Daddy will be proud of us when he comes
"Yes, he will, dear," Velda answered, forcing a smile.
In her heart she had terrible doubts that she would ever
see her husband alive again.
86 Miracle at Springhill
"Do you mind if I go out for a while?" Judy asked.
"I'd like to go to church if you won't be too lonely/'
"Please go/' Velda answered. "It will help your poor
father. We'll have some lunch when you get back."
Judy threw on her coat, wrapped a kerchief about her
blonde hair, and kissed her mother on the cheek. "This
time, next week," she said, "Daddy will go to church, too."
"He's going to church with you now," her mother an-
Zora Maddison had not returned home since she raced
out of the house Thursday night to wait at the pithead
for her father. But her brother, Alden, made repeated
trips to the mine to see that she was all right. Each time
he brought a message from his mother, asking the young
girl to come home and wait there, but each time she re-
The fourteen-year-old girl waited in the huge Salvation
Army tent when the weather was raw. When it was mild,
she waited at the mine entrance. She slept in the tent.
When she was hungry, she ate with the rescue workers.
The men looked at her dumbly. They could tell her noth-
ing about her father.
There was no one to stay with the baby, so going to
church was out of the question for Solange. She had been
praying all week anyway. She would continue praying
right up to the moment when she knew something for
Alden helped his mother straighten up the house. Then
he kissed her and left for church.
Harold Clarke had not been home for two days. He
In the heart of Springhill stands this stone and marble monu-
ment, topped by the figure of a miner. It commemorates the 125
men who lost their lives in the town's first mining disaster, 69
By checking the tags on this board, Harry Weatherbee was able to
estimate accurately the number of miners underground. The No. 2
shaft, in which the men were trapped, is indicated on the chart
No. 2 SHAPT
COAL DUG IK
$600 Ft LIVE
Wide World Phot
When the hump occurred, rescue teams prepared for action,
Their arduous task was to go on for more than a week. While they
worked, ambulances lined up near the mine, ready to rush sur-
vivors to the hospital.
Wide World Photos
Wide World Photon
The long hours of vigil were to last for more than a week. Shown
here are relatives and friends of the miners trapped below. For
only a few did the vigil bring a reward.
Wide World Photos
Wide World Photos
Levi Millcy, shown here as he was removed from the mine, was
one of twelve men who, buried for seven days, nevertheless sur-
vived. He and his buddies had been eating coal in their effort to
Wide World Photo*
The rescue of Doug Jewkes (above) and Garnet Clarke (on the
stretcher below) occurred ten days after the bump, when seven
more men were found alive. Although the men had given up hope,
they had celebrated Clarke's twenty-ninth birthday by splitting
their last sandwich seven ways.
Wide World Photos
Among the miners grateful to be alive were Teddv Mi
Currie Smith . .
Maurice Ruddick, the Singing Miner, is shown here with his
four-year-old son. Ruddick's high spirit and morale wore appre-
ciated by the men with whom he was entombed, four of whom-
Bowman Maddison, Harold Brine, Eldred Lowther, and Levi
Milley are pictured below.
Wide World Photot
In the Hands of God 87
had joined the rescue workers and already had made
several trips into the shattered mine. He chipped and tore
his way through the rubble, helping locate bodies. Each
time he came upon the form of a dead miner he shivered,
despite the oppressive heat in the shaft. He feared it
might be his brother.
Old Thomas Clarke was awake early on Sunday. With
one son unreported in the mine and another son with the
rescue workers, the man had given up his vigil at the pit-
head to remain at home with his daughter-in-law. On
Sunday, however, he told Lorraine, "111 go to church
today. Then 111 take a walk to the mine and wait there a
bit." He put on his overcoat and tweed cap and left the
Norma Ruddick had little time during the day to sit
down or worry consciously about her husband. With
twelve children she kept busy, although she was still weak
after the birth of the baby. The elder children gave her
all the help they could, but there were things a woman
had to do herself. It was the terribly long nights, when
everyone was asleep, that Norma Ruddick dreaded.
Colleen and her sisters, Sylvia and Valerie, helped their
mother prepare breakfast and clean up afterward. The
three girls had taken turns waiting at the mine, but some-
times they would go together to keep one another com-
pany during the long, dull hours of waiting. With the faith
of the young, the children were positive their father
would soon be home. On Sunday, they went again to the
mine, but first they went to church.
Margaret Guthro had planned to attend services at St.
88 Miracle at Springhill
Andrew's United Church, but the shock she received on
Saturday had not quite worn off and she decided to stay
It was Saturday afternoon that Rev. Douglas Tupper
drove up to her home. She saw him coming out of his car
and heading for her front door.
Suddenly, the room began to spin and her legs felt
weak. "Hughie's dead!" she screamed. "Hughie's dead!"
She sank to the couch, trembling, until Reverend Tupper's
knock sounded on the door.
The walk to the door seemed like miles. She knew that
when a minister came to the house during time of disaster,
it meant only one thing.
Terrified, Margaret opened the door. "Hughie's dead,
isn't he?" Her voice trembled as she blurted out the words.
At once, the Reverend Tupper realized her state of
mind. Placing an arm about her, he led her to the couch.
"I'm terribly, terribly sorry," he said, trying to soothe
her. "It's all my fault. I should have known better."
Margaret's eyes filled with tears as she looked at the
"No," he continued, patting her hand, "I haven't any
news of Hughie. I just brought these cookies to you from
the church." He held out a bag to her. "I thought you
might like them."
Margaret could not stop shaking as she took the bag.
"Thank you/' she whispered between sobs of relief.
"Everything will be all right," the minister soothed.
"And I promise I won't be back again until I know some-
thing definite. I'm sorry for upsetting you." He patted
her hand again, rose from the couch and walked to the
door by himself. Margaret was too upset to see him out
In the Hands of God 89
On Sunday, she was still too upset to leave the
At St John's Catholic Church, a dry-eyed congregation
listened to the pastor, Monsignor Thomas Buchanan.
"Life is a struggle ... We must fight on/' he said
haltingly. "Let us lift up our hearts to God for those who
have gone before us for a short time and remember it
is only for a very short time. . . ."
At Wesley United Church, Rev. Desmond McConnell
spoke: "These have been faith-shaking times for all of
us." But he recalled the 1956 explosion and how faith by
those who waited and by those who were trapped helped
bring them through their ordeal.
At St. Andrew's United Church, Mr. Tupper was still
upset after his visit with M'argaret Guthro. "When a
miner kisses his wife goodbye before going to work in
the mine, he does it with meaning," he said. "They both
know he may not be coming back." The Reverend Tupper
was preparing his flock for the worst.
In the afternoon, dark clouds moved over the Cobequid
hills, bringing a threat of rain. The townspeople strolling
on Main Street were silent and thoughtful. The women's
faces were drawn tightly, their eyes showing the long
hours of anxiety. The men, those not toiling with the
rescue crews, looked uncomfortable in their Sunday
There were two funerals that afternoon, funerals for the
first two dead brought up from the mine.
Services for Harry James Halliday began at two o'clock,
90 Miracle at Springhill
at his home at 181 Main Street. Two hundred relatives
and neighbors crowded into the modest house in final
respect to a man who had spent eighteen years in the
The services were brief. Rev. Desmond McConnell de-
livered the eulogy quietly. He told the gathering how
Harry Halliday loved hunting and fishing and how "this
man's life was centered in his home/' The choir, lined up
at one side of the flower-bedecked casket, sang, "Good
Night and Good Morning" and "Breathe on Me, Breath
Halliday 's widow, Eva, could not cry. That would come
later when everyone had gone and she was left alone in
Fifty mourners filled the cars behind the hearse that
moved slowly past the mine entrance and up the wind-
swept hill to Hillside Cemetery.
Eva Halliday stood beside her husband's blind mother,
as Mr. McConnell read the prayers delivering the miner
back into the ground from which his body had been so
The sightless woman groped in her own darkness, her
trembling hands seeking to touch the coffin of her son.
She was helped forward by her daughter-in-law. Tenderly
the mother patted the gray box, whispering, "Goodbye,
Harry. May God be with you/'
A photographer from one of the big city newspapers
had his camera poised. He was ready to record what his
editor would have regarded as a fine human interest
picture. The photographer lowered his camera and turned
away. He could not take the picture.
In the Hands of God 91
At three that afternoon, fourteen miles from Springhill
in the small community of Collingwood Corner, funeral
services were held for Harold Daniel MtNutt.
The services were held at the home of Mr. and Mrs,
Ewart Colborne, the parents of Mrs. McNutt. Rev. J.
Earle DeLong of Springhill conducted the brief prayers.
The choir sang "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and
"Abide with Me."
Then Harold Daniel McNutt was buried at Wyvern
Cemetery, near Collingwood Corner.
At the mine, bone-tired Draegermen and "barefaced"
men, oblivious to the day of rest, relentlessly pushed for-
ward. Since Friday morning, no miner had been brought
alive from the pits.
Fog rolled out of the hills to cover the town with chill
dampness on Monday. The rain had begun again and had
transformed the ground into rivulets of mud by 6:00 A.M.
when seven more bodies were brought to the surface. For
seven more families the period of waiting was at an end.
The toll still stood at eighty-one saved. Eighteen now
were known dead. Still trapped below groundand pre-
sumed dead were seventy-five men.
At 9:00 A.M., Billy Burton ran home in the rain.
He told his mother the news. His father, Charlie, the
hero of the 1956 explosion who had led fifty-nine men to
safety, had been located in the mine dead.
Rescuers tunnelling through to the 13,000-foot level
had found Charlie's body. His hand still clutched his
92 Miracle at Springhill
watch. This time, Charlie would not be the first man out
of the pits.
Kathleen Burton did not cry or break down when her
son told her. She stared into space, folding and unfolding
her hands in her lap. It was the only outward sign of her
anguish. Finally she rose from the couch and walked
slowly across the room to her sister-in-law who, up to this
moment, had not been able to speak.
"Charlie's gone," the miner's wife said simply. "Charlie's
Harold Gordon called another press conference that
night. He had just emerged from the mine, shaken and
worn. Circles rimmed his bloodshot eyes, and he coughed
repeatedly from the black dust he had inhaled.
Gordon detailed the progress: Three separate crews
were tunnelling toward the 13,000-foot level. "There's
nothing much we can do but keep slugging and it's
The 13,800-foot wall had been completely explored and
only one body remained to be recovered in this area.
Crews were busy at the 13,400-foot wall and had travelled
better than halfway up the wall. The 13,000 level was
clear of gas and the men were advancing rapidly, hoping
to get to the face of the wall later that night.
Gas lay on the 12,600-foot level and men working with
masks had another two hundred feet to clear before ad-
vancing toward the upper part of the 13,000-foot wall. As
soon as the Draegermen cleared those two hundred feet,
a rapid advance might be made.
In the Hands of God 93
At 11:00 P.M., rescue crews returning to the surface had
a different story to tell. The anticipated breakthrough
into the 13,000 level would be delayed. Rock, coal, and
timbers were wedged in so tightly from the floor to the
roof that it might be days before crews could even hope to
enter the level.
Many questions were now on the minds of rescue
workers and people in the town. How much longer? If
anyone had possibly survived for nearly five days and
that seemed impossiblehow could they survive any
The Birthday Party
Twelve men gave up hope, slowly. A terrible hunger
gnawed at them. Each of them dreamed about water.
On Sunday morning, they came awake slowly, stretch-
ing aching arms and rubbing dirt-crusted hands across the
grimy stubble of their beards. They did not know how
long they had slept. They did not remember waking in
starts many times during the night and straining their
eyes, trying to pierce the awful darkness that engulfed
them. They did not remember falling back to sleep, after
touching someone in the blackness just to make sure some-
one else was there.
Bowman Maddison yawned as he spoke. "They'd better
come for us soon. WeVe out of everything/'
"We're out of everything but hope/' Levi Milley an-
Maddison still felt as confident as if he were waiting for
a bus. It was only a matter of time before help would
arrive, he was sure.
The Birthday Party 95
Milley was beginning to have gnawing doubts about
rescue, but he still spoke of hope.
"That's the way to talk/' Joe Holloway agreed. Hollo-
way repeated his story of the 1956 explosion. He and the
others would survive this one, too. Despite the agonizing
pain of his broken leg, he felt it his duty to cheer thft
others. "Me and Hughie Guthro managed two years ago.
Well all manage this time/'
The youngest of the group, Larry Leadbetter, had des-
peration in his voice. ''Yeah, but you were down only two
nights. We've been here since Thursday night and today
is Sunday." The thought of it choked him. "And now
there's no water and not a damn thing to eat." His voice
began to rise.
Maddison cut in, trying to prevent Leadbetter from
breaking down. "Look," he said, "today's Sunday. If we
were home we'd be on our way to church. We can pray
Levi Milley agreed. "I know it's one helluva church,
but it's the best we've got. Why doesn't Caleb start the
singing? We can all follow him."
The men huddled close together on the rubble floor.
Caleb Rushton began his hymn in the darkness.
Abide with Me! fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide!
His voice rang clear, despite the ache in his heart and
the dryness in his mouth and throat. One by one, the
others joined in. Their words echoed in the black, jagged
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me!
96 Miracle at Springhill
The voices grew louder and stronger.
Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
Thou Who changeth not, abide with me.
Someone in the darkness had stopped singing and was
sobbing quietly. The others noticed, but continued.
1 need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me!
When the hymn was over no one spoke. Some fought
back tears. Each man was close to his God.
"Caleb, that was fine/' Maddison finally said, a slight
catch in his voice. "Could you sort of lead us in a prayer
of some kind?"
Rushton knelt in the darkness. Each man, except Hol-
loway, who could not, lifted himself off the floor to one
knee. They bowed their heads and closed their eyes as
Rushton began his prayer.
"Dear God," he began, "You know the fix we're in. We
don't know any way out of it. We haven't got any food and
we're out of water. Please, God, save us and bring us back
to our families. Every one of us has a wife and we've got
kids, too. They need us and we need them."
He paused for a moment. The silence was punctuated
only by the deep breathing of the men. "And, please,
God," he went on, "keep the rescue boys safe while they
come to get us. Help them, too. Amen."
The others whispered a fervent "Amen."
The Birthday Party 97
"That's about the best I can do, fellows/' Rushton said.
He sighed deeply. He was tired.
"Thanks, Caleb," Maddison said. "It made us all feel
The men lay back and rested and thought of home.
They daydreamed of sitting down to dinner with their
families, and of eating until they were full and drinking
until their stomachs ached. They wondered if such a day
would ever come again for them.
Later, Wilfred Hunter crawled away from the others,
dragging his injured leg painfully over rocks and fallen
timber. He knew the way, even in the darkness, but each
time he made the trip it took longer and longer. When he
reached what he believed to be the body of his twin
brother, Wilfred looked up at the roof. He could barely
make out the form still suspended there. He touched a leg.
"It's Sunday, Frank. I thought I'd say a prayer for us."
He began haltingly, trying to think of the right words.
"God," he said softly, "Frank and me are here in the
ground. You know that already. Frank is gone and maybe
my brother, Percy, is too. I'll probably be seeing them
both soon. Please help us. Bless Frank and Percy and the
others . . ." His voice cracked with emotion. "That's all
I can say, God. Amen for me and Frank and Percy."
Wilfred Hunter crawled back to the others. When he
returned they were asleep.
Monday morning brought a feeling of approaching
death. Hunger pains woke the men, wrenched at their in-
sides. They were growing increasingly silent, retreating
into themselves, preparing for the end.
Levi Milley lay on his side, his head propped on his
98 Miracle at Springhill
arm. It was more restful to keep his eyes closed than to
stare into nothingness. He wondered whether Velda and
Judy had gone to church the day before. Judy was prob-
ably in school today. Or maybe there was no school. Mtist
be lots of sorrow in town.
He tried to picture the town in the daylight. He tried
to remember what sunshine looked like, how a field of
corn stood proud and high and waved gently from side
to side in a soft breeze. Desperately, he attempted to
conjure up a picture of the rooms in his home. But his
thoughts would not focus. He wanted to scream because
remembering was so hard. He felt like smashing his fists
against the wall and breaking his way through to the sur-
face. He imagined himself racing out of the shaft into the
clean air and running, running, running until he reached
his home. There was Velda waiting outside, her arms out-
stretched. He ran and embraced her. And Judy, walking
out of the house, greeted him: "Hi, Daddy. Back from
work so early?" Didn't she know where he had been?
Didn't they know what he had been through, how he had
beaten his way out of the pit, shattered walls with his bare
hands and run all the way home just to be with them?
Didn't they know?
Who was doing that banging at the back of the house?
He hadn't hired anyone to make repairs. Maybe Velda
had. "What's that banging?" he callednot realizing he
had shouted it aloud.
The men bolted upright. Milley's voice had brought
them out of their own daydreams. Milley, too, was now
back to reality. They listened, straining. The sound they
heard was the clash of metal striking rock! They could
barely believe the sound.
The Birthday Party 99
"They're coming for us! They're coming for us!" one of
them shouted in the darkness. "Listen. Hear that? Some-
The men were gripped now in a frenzy of excitement.
Some groped for empty water cans, lunch boxes anything
to beat, to make noise. Others smashed their fists against
the walls, until their hands were cut and bleeding. Some-
one rapped on a broken air pipe they all knew was clogged
with dirt. But it led to the surface and maybe maybe the
sound would travel. Frantically, they screamed and
"We're here. We're here. For God's sake, we Ye alive!"
The clashing sounds stopped, but the men did not know
it, they were making so much noise. One by one the men
fell back, breathing quickly, trying to catch their breaths.
They felt weak. Their heads spun from the exertion. They
felt like throwing up, but there was nothing in their
stomachs. Instead, they retched and gagged.
"The noise is gone," Bowman Maddison said at last,
when finally he could speak. "They didn't hear us."
"It's all over. They won't come for us," someone else
Caleb Rushton began to sing, softly and slowly.
In fancy I stood by the shore one day,
Of the beautiful murmuring sea,
I saw the great crowds as they thronged the way
Of the Stranger of Galilee . . .
Bowman Maddison joined him, The voices of the two
men reverberated in the shaft.
I saw how the man who was blind from birth,
In a moment was made to see;
100 Miracle at Springhill
The lame were made whole by the matchless skill,
Of the Stranger of Galilee.
When the hymn was over, Maddison ran his hand along
the uneven floor and picked up a small chunk of coal. He
turned it over thoughtfully in his hand. "You know boys/'
he said, "I heard once that coal was good for heartburn.
It must be O.K. to eat, too." He had made up his mind,
"I'm gonna try it/'
He placed the piece in his mouth and crunched on it. It
tasted terrible. He ran his tongue over its many edges and
tried to chew harder and harder. The men could hear the
sounds, like that of someone munching on celery. Maddi-
son swallowed the soggy chips and felt them going down.
"Not too bad/' he lied. "It takes away some of the empti-
By then, the others were trying it, too.
On the other side of the wall of coal and stone that
separated the eight from the twelve, Maurice Ruddick
watched the hands on his luminous watch. The movement
fascinated and nearly hypnotized him in the dark.
The other men were awake and silent. They had not
slept well. Percy Rector's moaning kept them on edge.
His cries seemed to come from all parts of the shaft as
they bounced off the walls and slammed into the men like
Seven men were together on Sunday morning. The
eighth man, Barney Martin, was still cut off from the rest
by a barrier of debris; he faced the day alone in a shallow
hole, more dead than alive.
"Today's Sunday," Ruddick announced, taking his eyes
The Birthday Party 101
off his watch. He reached to his right and gently nudged
a form in the dark, trying to get an answer. 'It's Sunday/'
Garnet Clarke stirred and sat up. "I'm damn hungry,"
he said. "Is there anything left, Maurice?"
"Yeah, we've got two sandwiches. Might as well finish
one now." Ruddick reached down and lifted a lunch box
onto his lap. He opened it and took one out. In the dark-
ness he could not tell how dirty it was.
Ruddick broke the sandwich into pieces as equal as
possible, and the men crawled to him, feeling their way
over the floor. They held out their hands. Ruddick pressed
each man's share into the outstretched palm. Then he
moved over to Percy Rector and held a bite-size portion
to the suffering man's mouth. Even in his semiconscious
state, Rector realized it was food. He took a small bite
from the piece Ruddick held, and chewed slowly. When
he swallowed, Ruddick gave him the last small piece. He
held the water can to Rector's lips, allowing him only
enough to wet his mouth.
Ruddick crawled back to the others and passed the
water can. The men were on their honor, in the impene-
trable blackness, not to take more than their mouth-wet-
ting share. No one cheated. When the can was returned
to Ruddick, the bottom was still covered by water.
"It's Sunday," Ruddick repeated, after finishing his own
piece of the sandwich. He did not wait for comment. "It's
Sunday and we'll pray." He began with a hymn, his voice
clear and strong.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee,
102 Miracle at Springhill
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.
Percy Rector had stopped moaning. The excruciating
pain was still with him, but he struggled to hold back
and listen to Ruddick. Rector could not sing. He did not
have enough strength. Even breathing jarred his mangled
arm and almost reduced him to insensibility.
Ruddick's voice continued, unfalteringly.
Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no languor know,
These for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone;
In my hand no price I bring;
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Garnet Clarke joined in:
While I draw this fleeting breath . , .
Frank Hunter, Douglas Jewkes, Herb Pepperdine, and
Currie Smith added their voices. They were not as loud
or as clear as Ruddick's.
When my eyes shall close in death,
When I rise to worlds unknown,
And behold Thee on Thy throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
The voices trailed off. Each man silently offered his
personal prayer to his God. The words "When my eyes
shall close in death" stuck in their minds. They were re-
The Birthday Party 103
signing themselves to the end. The only question was
when it would come.
Almost as if he could read their minds, Maurice Rud-
dick cried out, "Let's do something! Me, I'm gonna make
some noise!" He ran his hand along the ground until he
found an empty water can. As he moved slowly along the
ground, climbing over the outstretched legs of the others,
he kept talking. "M'aybe they!! hear us. We've got noth-
ing to lose/' When he reached the end of a broken air pipe
he began pounding it with the water can.
Garnet Clarke found a rock and joined Ruddick at the
It was contagious, and soon six men were beating on the
air pipe or against the walls. They used rocks and water
cans, as well as their fists. Then, exhausted, they fell back
to the ground, breathing heavily, panting and sobbing at
the same time. In a while, silence closed in again. The
only sound came from Percy Rector, who was becoming
delirious and was mumbling.
Then there was another sound, almost as if in answer
to their pounding. In the distance were thumps, barely
audible, far away, faint but distinct.
"Hear that?" Garnet Clarke whispered.
"They haven't forgotten us," said Currie Smith.
Maurice Ruddick struggled to get up. "WeVe got to
make them hear us. WeVe got to let them know we're
The men were now all sitting up.
"We'll take turns at the pipe," Ruddick said 'I'll go
first." He found a water can, returned to the broken air
pipe, and began a slow, rhythmical rapping. When his
arm began to ache, he shifted the can to his other hand.
104 Miracle at Springhill
He tapped until he could barely lift either arm. Then he
crawled back to the others.
The thumping in the distance died away. But several
hours later the men heard it once more. Garnet Clarke
took his turn at the pipe, until his arms became leaden
and hung helplessly at his sides. Painfully, he dragged
himself back, stretched out on the floor and closed his
eyes. He tried to remember what daylight was like.
Later in the evening, the thumping sound returned.
Currie Smith moved to the pipe. He remained at his post
until it again died away.
The banging was too much for Percy Rector. His
screams of agony awakened the dozing Maurice Ruddick.
"That poor, poor bastard," Ruddick muttered. He crawled
to Rector and strained to make out a jumble of words.
"I ... know , . . where . . . big . . . well . . .take . . .
horse . . . wagon ... get ... water . . /'
"He's talking about getting a horse and wagon and go-
ing for water/' Ruddick informed the others. "The poor
guy's delirious. Thinks he's on a farm or somewhere
where there's a well."
Rector stopped talking. His head fell forward on his
chest. He was unconscious.
"What do you think we should do about Perce, now?"
"We went over that before," Pepperdine answered. "I've
still got the saw blade but I don't want to use it."
Each man reaffirmed his earlier decision not to ampu-
tate. They all desperately wanted to relieve Rector's
suffering. But there was nothing they could do. Inter-
mittently, they drifted off to sleep.
The Birthday Party 105
On Monday morning, Garnet Clarke was the one to
break the silence. "What time is it?" he called softly to
Ruddick was already awake. Now he held his arm up
close to his eyes to make out the hands on his watch.
They stood at 5:00 A.M. He told Clarke the time.
"Today's my birthday/' Clarke announced,
"How old are you?" Ruddick asked.
"Twenty-nine. The way it looks, I won't get a chance to
get any older."
Ruddick ignored the remark. "Hey fellows," he called
out. "Wake up. Everybody up. Today's Garnie's birth-
The men stirred, stretched, and sat up. "A helluva place
to have your birthday," someone said.
"We'll have a birthday party for Garnie," Ruddick went
on, when he was sure all were awake.
Currie Smith tried to get into the spirit of an impending
party. "Anyone got a razor?" He rubbed the black stubble
on his face. "I can't go to a party without a shave." The
others rubbed their faces automatically. They had not
realized that their beards had grown so much during their
"Look," Ruddick said. "WeVe got one sandwich left.
We were gonna eat it for breakfast. Let's have it now for
the party. When we get out of here we'll have a real party.
All of us. It'll last for days and I'll get roaring drunk!" A
picture of all of them at his home flashed through Rud-
dick's mind. He saw them eating and drinking, dancing
and laughing. It was a good picture. But it left him the
moment someone said, "Better have the party now. Don't
plan on getting out of here."
106 Miracle at Springhill
Ruddick continued, as if he had not heard. "I'm gonna
break up the sandwich. I don't even know what kind it is."
He held it up to his nose and smelled. "I still don't know
what the hell it is." He tore off a small corner of the sand-
wich and moved to Percy Rector. The others waited.
Rector was barely conscious when Ruddick reached
him. When the piece of sandwich was held to his mouth,
he took it in one bite. Ruddick pressed the water can to
Rector's lips and he swallowed eagerly, but the can was
quickly pulled away to save its meager contents for the
"All right boys, we'll have our party now/' Ruddick said
brightly when he returned. He tore off pieces and the men
crawled to him for their portions. They did not eat, but
sat in the darkness, clutching the grimy bits of food, wait-
ing for the party to begin.
"Just make believe it's a piece of cake," Ruddick sug-
gested. "A cake Garnie's girl friend made for him/' He
was trying to inject some frivolity into the scene.
Ruddick's remark brought smiles to the faces of the men
who could not see one another. They began to eat, taking
tiny bites to make the food last longer.
"Now well wash it all down/' Ruddick said jokingly
when he figured the men had finished eating. He passed
the water can and the men wet their lips. When it was
returned, the can contained less than a thimbleful. Then
it was gone. "That's the last of everything," Ruddick said,
dropping the can to the ground. "We're out of everything
The men grew silent and Ruddick was sorry he had
mentioned it. They knew it anyhow, he thought. But he
shouldn't have spoiled the party by mentioning the situa-
The Birthday Party 107
tion. He began to sing as loudly as he could. "Happy birth-
day to you, happy birthday to you . . "
The others did not expect Ruddick, or anyone, to sing,
and it startled them.
"Come on/' Ruddick urged. He tried to make his voice
cheerful. " After all, it's Garnie's birthday. Now, I'll start
it again/' He began once more. "Happy birthday to you,
happy birthday to you . . ."
The others joined in; everyone but Percy Rector, who
was too weak, and young Clarke, who did not feel it would
be proper to sing "Happy Birthday" to himself.
"Happy birthday, dear Garnie, happy birthday to you!'*
Garnet Clarke was glad for the moment that it was
dark. A man of twenty-nine should not be seen crying.
"No Further Hope"
A fifteen-mile-an-hour northeast wind whipped the rain
in great sheets across Main Street. From the top of the
street it was impossible to see the mine entrance. Heavy
fog hung close to the ground. At the mine, only a handful
of people waited inside the great Salvation Army tent.
They huddled by the pot-bellied stove, trying to escape
the rawness of Tuesday morning.
Draegermen and "barefaced" men stopped at the tent
after they finished their shift below ground. All told the
same story to the anxious relatives. They were making
progress as little as a foot an hour but progress. It was
hot below, and the work was backbreaking. Many dis-
played cut and raw hands and elbows from dragging
themselves along the ground, from trying to force their
bodies into places where no human being should crawl.
Most of the rescuers shook their heads glumly when
asked, "Is there any hope at all?"
The majority of the townspeople were still at home this
"No Further Hope" 109
morning, preparing to attend six more funerals. Seven
men had been buried the day before: Edward Mac-
Donald, Percy Bryan, Edward Bobbie, Eldon Stevens,
Clyde Corkum, Hiram Hunter, and Cecil Cole.
Today, six more were to be returned to the sodden
ground: William Turnbull, Angus Gillis, Bernard Miller,
Isaac Holloway, William Smith, and Clarence MacLeod.
Services were being held morning and afternoon. The
procession of funeral cars seemed never-ending.
On the still green lawns of the cemeteries that fringed
the town, row after row of fresh mounds of earth scarred
the rolling land. There were not enough gravediggers so
relatives and friends helped prepare final resting places
for their dead.
This morning, the count stood at twenty-two bodies
brought to the surface and identified. Seventy-one men
were still missing.
At 9:00 A.M., General Manager Harold Gordon came to
the surface for the fifth time and called a press confer-
ence. Newspaper, radio, and television representatives
gathered in the company office again. The feeling of
despair had spread to this hard-boiled group.
Black dirt still caked Gordon's face. His eyes were
bloodshot and his voice was hoarse, but he spoke slowly
"The rescue crews are making only ten to, twelve feet
in each eight-hour shift. They cannot go through any
faster. It is almost solid rock ahead of them." He paused
to let his words sink in and take effect.
Before Gordon could continue, a reporter quietly asked
him what he meant. Gordon stared directly at the re-
110 Miracle at Springhill
porter. "It means/' he said, with a look of a man con-
demning a town to death, "that there is no further hope.
There just can't be. We cannot hold any reason to believe
that men will be found alive when we finally do reach
"In other words," another reporter asked, "the men still
in the mine and unaccounted for are all dead?"
'There is no reason to think otherwise." Gordon rubbed
his eyes as if to loosen some of the dirt. Actually, he was
Gordon's statement was quickly relayed to the rescue
crews who were readying their equipment in the Draeger
House, preparing to go below once more. The men hur-
ried with their breathing masks. They hunched their
shoulders and straightened them, making sure the weight
on their backs was properly distributed.
"I don't give a damn what Gordon said," one of the men
said bitterly. He was tired. His bones ached. His nerves
were rubbed raw. He hated to go again into the black
hole. All he wanted was a clean bed with nothing but
hours and hours of sleep. "I don't give a damn what any-
one says," he repeated. "Until I see the boys dead, I'm
gonna keep going back down." He strode from the room.
The rest of the crew fell in behind him, and^ marched
single-file into the rain and across the muddy grounds.
They entered the mine, water dripping from their hel-
mets, to dig and claw and crawl once more.
The families of the men still below ground also heard
Gordon's statement. They saw him on television. They
heard him on their radios. They were told about it at the
"No Further Hope 9 111
pithead. It was something most of them expected but
hoped they would never hear.
When the news was relayed to the mine grounds,
women and children left the tents and walked slowly out
into the rain. They left the pithead, pausing to look back
at the activity of the rescue crews coming and going. They
passed under the archway onto Main Street. Most decided
now to wait at home for the final word that a husband
or a father was dead.
Zora Maddison still had not returned home. Despite
what practically everyone else now believed, the young
girl refused to give her father up to the mine. She had
left the tent to stand in the rain and she shivered in the
dampness as a Draeger crew moved by her. Maybe, she
thought, this shift would find her father. She turned and
walked slowly through the ankle-deep mud back to the
tent, to continue her vigil.
At home, Solange Maddison heard the news on the
radio. She had finished feeding the baby and had placed
him gently in his crib when Gordon's announcement
crackled over the air. The strength ebbed from her body
as she slowly walked into the front room and sat dis-
consolately on the couch. She sat there, staring at nothing.
Half an hour passed before her brother-in-law arrived
at the home. The front door was unlocked and he let him-
self in. Ralph Maddison took her hand in his. "I guess it's
all over/* he said. "Is there anything I can do?" He could
not think of anything else to say.
"Will you make arrangements at the cemetery?"
"Hillside?" Ralph did not know why he asked that. He
112 Miracle at Springhill
knew Hillside would be the cemetery. It was just for want
of something to say.
"Yes, Hillside. I don't even know how much a plot costs.
I never thought I'd be thinking of these things so soon."
In Moncton, New Brunswick, the Metropolitan Life In-
surance Company was preparing a check for six thousand
dollars for Mrs. Bowman Maddison of Springhill. As soon
as her husband's body was brought to the surface and
identified, they would mail it.
Velda Milley and Judy sat silently for several minutes
before the television set. Both had finished a light break-
fast and straightened up the kitchen in time to watch
Gordon. Velda had not been out of the house since the
night of the bump. Judy remained home from school, ex-
pecting the worst. But the statement left them momen-
Levi's chickens clucked incessantly in the backyard.
The rain beat against the windows of the house back-
ground music to the tragedy. Judy took her mother's hand
and squeezed. "Gordon could be wrong/' she whispered.
Garnet Clarke's father, Thomas, did not say a word
when he heard the statement on the radio. But his daugh-
ter-in-law, Lorraine, gasped and began to sob.
Clarke remained silent for another moment, absorbed
in his own thoughts. "He didn't even live long enough to
get married," he mumbled. "Yesterday he would have
Norma Ruddick was busy with the twelve children and
"No Further Hope' 113
did not hear the radio, even though it was turned on for
the latest news.
The oldest girl, Colleen, heard Gordon's statement. "I'm
not going to tell Momma what he said/' she told Sylvia.
"Shell only worry more. And anyway, I don't believe
him." The girl honestly did not believe Gordon. She did
not believe anyone who might even suggest that her
father, Maurice, was dead.
Sylvia, acting older than her eleven years, whispered
like a conspirator. "Momma's upstairs with the baby. She
didn't hear the radio. We won't say a thing."
The girls cleaned up the breakfast dishes and swept all
the rooms downstairs. They walked upstairs and informed
their mother that they were going to the mine.
"In this rain?" Norma asked. "You'll catch cold. M'aybe
you ought to stay home today." Norma knew better than
to demand that the girls stay home. They had been going
to the mine every day.
"We'll dress warm," Colleen said.
"We'll be all right," Sylvia added. "We'll stay in one
of the tents."
The sisters put on their boots, slipped into slickers, and
wrapped kerchiefs around their heads. They walked out
of the house and down the muddy road to the pithead.
By now, Margaret Guthro had given up hope. In 1956,
she had waited three days and nights at the pithead and
Hughie had come up alive. This time it was different.
Hughie had been down in the pit since Thursday after-
noon. Now it was Tuesday morning. The only men being
brought to the surface were dead.
There were only a few things left to do. Today, she
114 Miracle at Springhill
would buy a black dress and hat and check the deed to
the cemetery plot. Thinking of what the funeral would be
like, she thought suddenly of the front door. Hughie had
built their four-room house with his own hands in 1950,
all in his spare time, but he never did get around to put-
ting in a front doorstep. It had not mattered. The family
always used the side door. But now a casket would have
to be taken out the front way. There had to be a step.
Margaret, feeling strangely alone, walked to the tele-
phone and called her brother. Would he build the step
Tomorrow, he said, he would be at her house with
lumber and nails.
Separate rescue crews picked their way slowly through
the battered 13,800 and 13,400 levels, working with one
goal in mind: break through to the unexplored and un-
reported 13,000 level. By Tuesday morning, the crews still
did not have any idea when the breakthrough might
come. Their muscles protested at the agonizing work, but
they kept moving.
At the 13,800 level only a few bodies remained. These
had been left for last, the ones most difficult to get to.
Most of them were smashed against the roof or wedged
in between huge timbers.
When there were few people waiting at the pithead,
usually in the cold hours before dawn, a supply of burlap
bags was sent down into the mine with the rescue crews.
Hack saws were used to free some of the trapped bodies
and the remains placed in one of the burlap bags. The
people waiting at the surface saw the bags come up. They
knew what they meant, but it was never mentioned aloud.
"No Further Hope" 115
Tunnelling down from another direction, gas-masked
Draegermen dug along the clogged 12,600 level. Nearly a
thousand feet from the exit-entry slope, it was decided
that better progress would be made by hacking a low,
narrow passage through virgin coal at the high side of
the level. Sweating in the oppressive eighty-five-degree
heat of the pit, weighed down by breathing apparatus on
their backs which seemed to grow heavier and heavier,
the men had to pick away at the shiny coal.
Tuesday afternoon. Bowman Maddison crunched on a
piece of coal. It did not relieve his hunger. And it only
added to his thirst.
He reached out in the darkness and his hand touched
Levi Milley. "That you, Levi?" he asked. He knew who it
was. He just needed reassurance.
"Yeah, it's me. What's the matter? Feel sick?"
"No, just damn thirsty/'
"Me too. I could drink a gallon of ice-cold beer right
now/' Levi was having difficulty talking because of his
parched throat. He ran his tongue over his cracked lips.
"Boy, it feels hot in here all of a sudden/'
"Probably because we're so thirsty," Maddison replied.
The others were talking low, each to the one nearest
him. There was no joking or suggestion to explore further
along the top of the wall. Each man felt that the end was
"We've got to save our strength," Maddison said hol-
"For what?" Milley asked. "And how in hell do we save
it? Just by waiting here and not eating or having anything
116 Miracle at Springhill
to drink?" He called out in a raspy voice to Caleb Rush-
ton. "Caleb, what day is it?"
"It's Tuesday. Tuesday afternoon," Rushton replied.
Milley again counted the days. "No one is coming for
us!" He made the announcement as if it were a great dis-
covery. "The mine is sealed off," he continued, almost
hysterically. "You hear me, Bowsie? The mine is sealed
off! We're all gonna die and we can't do a thing about it!"
As if in answer to Milley 's words, the thumping sound
"Hear that? Hear that, Levi?" Maddison yelled. His
voice was so hoarse he did not recognize it as his own. It
seemed to be coming from someone else.
The men scarcely breathed. They listened, straining to
catch the sound.
"I'm gonna try the pipe again," Maddison said, lifting
himself to his knees. He crawled to the broken air pipe
and began to rap it with an empty water can.
The thumping became a vibration, but it did not seem
to come any closer.
"Sounds like the air fans making that noise," Maddison
said. For an hour he kept tapping, until the vibration
faded and was gone. His arms were numb. Perspiration
rolled down his forehead and stung his eyes. His chest
ached and his face was on fire. He could not speak as he
dragged himself painfully across the rough floor, back to
He lay back, trying to catch his breath. The thirst was
unbearable. God, he thought, I'm gonna die of thirst. He
became dizzy and his body began to tremble. "I never
thought I'd die of thirst," he whispered to himself. His
"No Further Hope 9 117
head spun. A great weakness engulfed his body. Feebly,
he reached out again to touch Levi Milley.
Milley was trying desperately, but vainly, to drive thirst
from his mind. But he could not keep his thoughts away
from his home. And in his home was the kitchen, the sink,
the water faucet. The water was running and it filled up
the sink, splashing onto the floor. Velda was sitting in a
chair watching it, and she was laughing. Laughing!
Laughing at water splashing onto the floor! Judy was at
the oval table, busy with her homework. She didn't even
notice the water. She didn't care. Where am I? Tm not in
the house. There's just Velda and Judy! Does that mean
Everything was jumbled together in Milley 's mind, but
none of the things seemed to fit. He saw his chickens run-
ning around inside the house, defecating wherever they
went. No one paid any attention to them. Velda! Judyl
Look at the chickens! No one even hearfL
Now he was outside the house. Velda was splashing
black paint over the newly painted trim. Judy was stand-
ing at her side.
Milley was sure this meant he had died. He did not hear
the thumping sound begin once more. When Gorley
Kempt brushed by him in the dark to begin rapping on
the pipe, Milley was finally asleep.
Four hundred feet away, on the other side of the wall
of stone, Maurice Ruddick clenched and unclenched his
fists. The Singing Miner was thirsty and hungry, but he
still felt strength. He began to run over the words of a
song he would set to music if he ever got to the surface
118 Miracle at Springhill
again. At any rate, even if he didn't, it helped pass the
The twenty-third of October, well remember that
Down the shaft underground in our usual way . . .
It doesn't sound too bad, he thought, and smiled to
himself. Maybe some real slow music for it.
In the Cumberland pit town, the rafters crashed
And black hell closed around us, way down in the
ground . . .
Not bad. Not bad at all. A smile again creased his
nigged, filthy face. He saw himself singing the song into
his tape recorder at home. Maybe the quartet would sing
it. Then they could send it away to some radio station or
music publisher. There should be a good market for a
song like this.
Percy Rector snapped him out of the daydream. The
others stirred and came wide awake, too.
"Oh, no, you're not gonna get that," Rector was yelling.
Ruddick slid over to Rector and patted him on the leg.
"He's delirious again. Thinks he's talking to his kids."
"Muriel, I said no!" Rector yelled again, thrashing about
with his good arm. Ruddick stroked the distraught man's
face, trying to calm him. Rector was clammy. He should
have been warm and sweaty, like the rest.
"I ... get . . . water . . ." Rector went on incoherently.
Ruddick patted him again. "Easy now, Perce. Just take
it easy and everything will be all right. We're all here with
you. Just take it easy."
"No Further Hope 9 119
But Rector was unconscious. Only his heavy, labored
breathing announced that he was still alive*
Twenty-nine years and one day old. That was Garnet
Clarke today. Like Ruddick, he had not yet grown weak
from the hunger and the thirst. But he could not sit still
Just sitting, waiting for the end to come . . . No, damn it,
there must be something to do!
"Currie," he called to his buddy, Currie Smith.
"What is it, Garnie?"
"Want to look around again? We should see how Barney
is/' It was just an excuse for some company.
"I guess so," Smith answered. He was not anxious to
creep about in the dark. And he was tired. But what was
there to lose?
The men rose to their knees and hunched over, moved
away together down the wall. They inched their way,
keeping close to each other, to the narrow opening they
had made earlier. They scrambled over the rock and
timber and wedged their bodies through the small hole.
"He's not here!" Clarke exclaimed. He felt along the
ground, trying to locate the body of Barney Martin.
"He's got to be here! Where the hell could he go?"
They moved around the narrow trap, reaching out to
either side for Martin. Panic was beginning to build up as
they scoured the pitch-black area.
Finally, Clarke called out. "Here he is! He must have
crawled away trying to get out." He bent over Martin and
put his ear to the man's chest. "His heart's beating." He
put his face close to Martin's mouth. "He's breathing, but
you can hardly tell."
120 Miracle at Springhill
Currie Smith crawled over, following the direction of
Clarke's voice. He whistled softly through his teeth.
"Jesus, I never expected to find him alive!''
Clarke slid his hand under Martin's head and lifted it
slightly. "Barney, Barney Martin," he whispered close to
Martin stirred and blinked his eyes, but he could see
nothing in the darkness. "Water?" he asked. His voice was
"We don't have any, Barney," Clarke said. "I wish we
did." He let Martin's head gently down to the floor. The
miner was unconscious again.
"On the way back, feel around for cans or pails," Clarke
suggested to Smith.
"I was gonna do that anyhow."
Clarke and Smith started back, squeezing once more
through the small gap at the top of the wall. They did not
find anything. They resumed their places on the floor and
kicked off their shoes again. The crawling and searching
for Barney Martin had taxed what little strength they had.
Clarke lay back on the ground and stretched his arms,
his hand touching a timber. It gave him an idea. No, it
couldn't be any good. It was too crazy. But this whole
mess was crazy. So what was there to lose? "You know
fellows," he finally said, "I remember reading someplace
about some guys who were trapped like us. They kept
alive by eating bark." He paused for what seemed like a
minute, but no one replied. "They just peeled some from
the props and ate it," he explained. The others merely
listened. "I'm gonna try it," Clarke said.
He pulled some of the outer covering from the timber
next to him. It was dirty, but he could not see that in the
"No Further Hope" 121
dark. He held it to his mouth and took a small, hesitant
bite. Slowly, very slowly, he ground his teeth into it until
it became a soggy ball. Then he swallowed.
Maurice Ruddick was doing the same thing. "It isn't too
bad/' he announced. "Try it boys." The others were al-
After this meal the men rested. Occasionally they dozed.
Some time in the afternoon, the vibrations and thump-
ing started again. But this time something else was added.
There was a tapping! It seemed to be coming down the
broken air pipe.
Clarke screamed when he heard it. His heart began to
pound. "Hear that? Hear it?" He was on his hands and
knees. "They're trying to signal us! Count them."
The men listened, counting under their breaths.
"Six times," Clarke said softly. The others agreed. He
jammed his feet back into his shoes and, despite his aches,
crawled quickly on all fours to the broken pipe. He
grabbed the empty water can and tapped the pipe de-
liberately. Six times. Then he waited. The others remained
The tapping on the other end began again. Clarke felt
weak with elation. His head swam as he listened.
One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five ... six ...
"Oh, God!" An answer. He got through!
. . . seven . . . eight . . . nine . . . ten . . . eleven . . .
twelve . . . thirteen . . .
Clarke could not speak. Thirteen taps for an answer!
He flung the water can to the ground and heard it bounce
along the jagged rock. The sound echoed hollowly in the
122 Miracle at Springhill
"They don't hear us! They don't know we're here!"
Clarke was close to tears. He crawled back, talking as he
moved. "They tapped six times. You heard it. Six times!
I answered back six times. You heard me do it. They
tapped back thirteen times. Thirteen! It means they can't
hear us. They think everybody in here is dead!" He lay
back on the ground and began to sob.
Clarke's despair spread. Even Maurice Ruddick re-
mained silent, absorbed in his own thoughts. Garnie was
right. No one knew they were there. It was hopeless. The
tapping was probably only some of the rescue crews pick-
ing their way through the debris. They were a long way
off. They didn't seem to be in any hurry.
Ruddick could still taste the bark. A hell of a way to die,
he thought. Eating wood.
Later, Ruddick twisted on his side and looked at his
watch. It was 4:00 P.M. He was hungrier than he had ever
thought it possible to be. He pressed his hands to his
stomach until it hurt, trying to drive the hunger pains
away. He rubbed his mouth with his grimy fist, loosening
some of the dirt caked at the corners. He tried to spit out
some of the dust. Nothing came out and he gagged.
Except for the sound of Percy Rector breathing, there
was silence everywhere. Ruddick moved over to Rector
and patted his leg. When he felt the miner's body, a shiver
ran through him, tingling his beard and raising the hairs
on the back of his neck. Rector was getting cold!
"Perce is getting cold!" Ruddick shouted loudly. The
men who were half-dozing, awoke. "He's getting cold!"
Ruddick exclaimed again. "And it's over eighty in this
"No Further Hope' 123
The men felt the presence of death all about them. At
four- twenty in the afternoon, they heard Percy Rector
inhale deeply and exhale, his breath hissing through
clenched teeth. He did not inhale again.
"Come and Get Us"
Wednesday began as a routine day, if any day filled with
despair and constant search for the dead can be con-
sidered routine. The rain of the day before had turned to
drizzle, and thin fog hung in the air like a gossamer
During the morning, more bodies had been brought to
the surface, the result of the long backbreaking hours of
the rescue crews. The toll now stood at eighty-one res-
cued (all during the first hours following the bump),
twenty-six dead (brought to the surface during the next
six days), and sixty-seven still missing, unaccounted for,
and presumed dead.
On this morning, "barefaced" men reported the 13,800-
foot level cleared of all bodies. Nothing was left in this
section but twisted rails, shattered walls, and smashed
lunch pails and water cans. The only life was in the huge,
gray mine rats who somehow sensed they would no longer
be disturbed by men.
"Come and Get Us" 125
Draegermen, ashen faced from long hours of toil and
little sleep, continued to push forward in the pits. At this
time the 13,000 level was still seventy agonizing feet away.
The work went on methodically, slowly. There were
bodies to bring out for burial, bodies taken from the earth
to be returned to the earth. The crews now began to think
of themselves as retrievers of the dead. The urgency of
their original mission, when it was hoped men might be
found alive, had long since gone.
Below ground, to twelve gaunt men, hope was now a
forlorn word. Not one of them could survive much longer
and each of them knew it. It might be a matter of hours,
or a day at the most, before they would succumb, one by
one, to the gnawing hunger and thirst.
Each had begun to give himself up to God, awaiting
the inevitable end. Each had tried to sleep, hoping that
death would come silently, mercifully. But the subcon-
scious will to survive was too great. They could not sleep.
Wilfred Hunter felt that he had to make one more visit
to the body he believed was his brother, Frank. He wanted
to say goodbye. Silently he slid away from the others. It
was the longest trip he had ever made. He stopped re-
peatedly on the way, to gasp for a breath or to cough and
spit. His stomach was in pain. Hot irons stabbed his chest.
When he reached the body he could scarcely speak. His
mouth felt full of feathers. It was almost impossible to
The stench from the decaying body was awful. Wilfred
sat on the mine floor and tried to breathe through his
mouth. That way, he figured, the smell would not be so
126 Miracle at Springhill
"I can't come back any more, Frank," he said, looking
up to where the body was suspended from the roof. "I
can't make it." He paused and sat staring into the black-
ness. "Wherever you are, I'll be with you soon. I guess
it was meant for us to be together." Wilfred rested, then
pulled himself painfully to his knees. His entire body
ached and there was a terrible shooting pain in his leg.
"Goodbye, Frank," he whispered. Then he began the slow,
agonizing crawl back to where the others were awaiting
Levi Milley could barely speak. He wanted to call en-
couragement to Joe McDonald, whose broken hip was
becoming increasingly painful. Teddy Michniak, despite
his broken shoulder, was by McDonald's side, still whis-
pering to him, still trying to console him.
Levi's lips were swollen and cracked. Each time he ran
his tongue over them it hurt more. But he did it anyway.
He choked when he tried to swallow. "Wednesday, how
much longer?" It was not a question of how much longer
he would have to wait for rescue. It was how much longer
he would stay alive.
The other men had nothing to discuss now. No one
acknowledged the fact that it was Wednesday. What
difference would it make? If they survived until the next
afternoon, it would be one full week spent nearly a mile
in the ground.
Caleb Rushton was sucking on a small piece of coal,
trying to moisten his mouth. He had already eaten a piece
but it did not relieve his hunger. There was nothing left
to do but wait. His voice cracked when he spoke. "Boys,
"Come and Get Us" 127
I guess there isn't much time left for us, I'd like to say a
prayer for us all."
"Can God hear us way down here?" Milley asked. He
knew better, but he said it in despair.
The men remained silent as Rushton rose to one knee
and bowed his head. Despite the dark, he closed his eyes.
"O God, merciful and compassionate, Who art ever ready
to hear the prayers of those who put their trust in Thee;
graciously hearken to us who call upon Thee, and grant
us Thy help in this our need; thiough Jesus Christ our
He did not move from his place for a full minute, as
silence settled over the twelve men. At this moment, they
had all given themselves up to their Maker.
As they settled down to await the end, the thumping
noise and the vibrations began again.
On the other side of the rock barrier Maurice Ruddick
knew it was Wednesday morning. His watch had helped
him keep track of the passage of time. Still shining in the
dark, it somehow brought him comfort. Maybe, when they
found his body, if they ever did, someone would bring the
watch to his home. It would be something for his kids to
remember him by.
Garnet Clarke was now twenty-nine years and two days
old. He felt fortunate to have lived beyond his birthday.
But he had an idea that was disturbing to him. This morn-
ing, he decided, he would tell the others about it. He had
made up his mind what he would do.
Doug Jewkes could not stop talking about Seven-Up.
He wanted a case of pop, ice cold, he said. He did not
128 Miracle at Springhill
know why he had this craving for Seven-Up and not for
water. He only knew that it was all he wanted.
"If only he wouldn't mention it out loud," Garnet
Clarke reflected. "It makes it worse for all of us/' His
mouth was hot and his throat burned. "The hell with it,
Tin gonna try it/' he said half -aloud. He had already made
up his mind. "Boys/' he began uncertainly, not knowing
exactly how to begin. "Boys," he repeated, "we can eat
the bark to put something in our stomachs, but it isn't
enough. We need fluids . . ." He purposely did not men-
tion water. Only fluids.
The others merely listened.
"We could at least dip the bark in it . . ." He paused
again, waiting for a reaction or a protest that might dis-
suade him. None came and his temper rose. "Damn it!" he
exclaimed. "You guys know what I mean. I don't know
about you but I can't take it any more. IVe got fluids in
my body that are going to waste. I'm gonna use them."
Without hesitating any further, he found a water can
and filled it.
It took another hour but, one by one, each man fol-
lowed suit, using water cans and empty lunch boxes. They
felt disgusted with themselves but they did not talk about
it. Each man consoled himself with the knowledge that
Clarke was right. Clarke's idea might keep them alive
Later, Herb Pepperdine crawled away from the others.
As he left, he told them, "I'm gonna scout around a little
and see if I can find anything." The act of dipping pieces
of bark into the fluid had made him desperate.
In half an hour he was back, breathless and exuberant.
"Come and Get Us" 129
Even before he reached the others, he called out to them.
"I found something!"
The men thought of a sandwich or a full can of water.
"I found a candy bara whole candy bar!" he bellowed.
An ordinary, everyday item had taken on tremendous
importance. "J ust a little way from here," he continued
excitedly, as proud of himself as if he had returned with a
side of beef. He sat down and spoke rapidly, the words
tumbling from his mouth. "I was feeling around on the
ground and my hand touched something smooth. I didn't
know what the hell it was. I picked it up and smelled it.
It was a bar. It was still in the wrapper. A big one. The
ten cent kind!" Pepperdine groped his way over to Rud-
dick and handed him his prize. "Here, Maurice, divide it."
Then he settled back in the blackness to catch his breath
and rest. He had a wide, satisfied grin on his face.
"Funny, isn't it?" Clarke said, while Ruddick broke the
bar into seven pieces. "I remember w)ien I ate all the bars
I wanted at my cousin's store. Most of the time I didn't
even have to pay for them."
"You don't have to pay for this one, either," Levi Milley
answered. His spirits had lifted considerably with the
story of Pepperdine's discovery. The candy would take
that awful taste out of his mouth.
Ruddick handed each man his small portion. They ate
slowly, savoring the flavor, reluctant to swallow.
But when they finished, the chocolate only increased
At 11:00 A.M., rescue workers estimated they were still
sixty feet from the 13,000-foot level. They chipped at a
130 Miracle at Springhill
corner of a wall of coal and stone that refused to come
Earl Wood cursed softly under his breath as his pick
bit into the wall. He held the tool tightly in his big hands,
pushing it into the debris. Beads of perspiration stood out
on his blackened brow. He was flat on his stomach, and
had worked in this punishing position for the past five
In the narrow shaft, lights bobbed from the helmets
of the men in the line behind him, men who were method-
ically, tiredly, chipping away, looking for an opening that
would take them to the 13,000 level.
Wood smashed his pick into the wall again. All at
once the debris crumbled and gave way with a roar. A
great cloud of dust and hot air seared his eyes and filled
his mouth and nostrils.
"Gas!" Wood cried out in panic, sliding hastily away
from the opening. He collided with Warren Hunter, who
had been working behind him. "Gas!" Wood cried again,
and both men backed away.
The others stopped work and the dozen men in the
narrow passage moved back some thirty-five feet into the
larger space of the level. They waited for the dust to
settle, afraid to breathe. They sat hunched on the ground
and took this time to remove their water cans from their
belts and wash some of the dust from their mouths. They
took big, refreshing drinks. It was hot, tiring work, and
they were thirsty.
"Maybe I punched through," Wood suggested hope-
fully. He could not tell. The dust continued to swirl
around the area where his pick had struck.
The rescuers continued to wait. Slowly the dust cleared.
"Come and Get Us" 131
Bob Cummings, the overman, crawled ahead and made a
quick test for gas. The air was safe. He reported that
Wood's pick had uncovered the broken end of a length
of compressed air pipe.
Wood went up to investigate the end of the six inch
steel pipe protruding through the debris. "That's what
caused the dust/' he said. The air trapped in the clogged
pipe had rushed out when the pick struck it and loosened
Some of the other workers crowded up and took turns
looking at the pipe. They had seen pipes like this thou-
sands of times before. But this one was different. This one
led to the 13,000-foot level. If only they could get in the
pipe and slide right through, one of the men remarked.
Suddenly a fragment of a word startled Wood.
From somewhere, he heard: ". . . en." Nothing more.
"What?" he asked, turning to Percy Weatherbee, who
was now directly behind him.
"I didn't say anything," Weatherbee replied.
"What is it?" Wood shouted to the others. "Who
Arnold Reese had not said anything, he informed Wood.
Neither had George Hodges or George Scott.
"Probably somebody down the level where we came in,"
Wood reasoned. "Sound travels funny in here." He dis-
missed it from his mind.
At the other end of the pipe, in the 13,000-foot level,
twelve men were waiting now for death.
At noontime, Joe McDonald whispered to Teddy Mich-
niak, "My leg is hurting again."
Michniak's shoulder ached and he could not turn his
132 Miracle at Springhill
head easily. The two men remained near each other.
"We've got to take it easy and keep hoping/' Michniak
told McDonald. "But it all seems so damn hopeless/'
"I've tried not to complain/' McDonald answered. "It
doesn't do any good. It hurts real bad now." He gritted his
teeth, determined not to mention his leg again.
Bowman Maddison was listening hard for something.
He did hot know what, but he had the strange feeling
that there were sounds in the distance. They did not sound
like the familiar noises the rats made scurrying around
in their search for food. Still, he thought, they were
scratchings. A shudder ran through him. If he died, the
rats would get him. They wouldn't leave much to identify.
But what the hell difference did it make when he was
Gorley Kempt listened to the sounds, too. He could
not understand what caused them. He nudged Harold
Brine. "Hear that?"
"I've been listening."
"What do you think it is?"
"I'm not sure," Brine answered. "At times it sounds like
chipping. Then, I think I can make out the sound of some-
thing like a fan." He shrugged his shoulders. "But I know
it couldn't be."
"Sometimes it sounds like it's coming from the air pipe,"
Kempt replied. "Want to crawl over with me? Maybe we
can hear it better."
"Why not?" Brine said.
Together, Kempt and Brine moved across the floor to
the broken pipe. They could wait there just as easily as
anywhere else, they agreed.
"Come and Get Us" 133
At 1:45 P.M., Chief Mine Surveyor Blair Phillips came
into the tunnel to test the air's gas content. It was purely
routine, one of his jobs even when the mine was working.
Phillips inserted a bottle into the mouth of the un-
covered pipe. Chemicals in the bottle would react and
change color if the air were mixed with gas. He hesitated
for a moment. Still about sixty feet from the 13,000 level,
he estimated. He knew that men were unaccounted for
at this level. If the bottle showed a high percentage of
gas, then there would be nothing to do but send word to
He bent over the pipe, arched his head so the light
from his helmet would shine on the opening. He moved
the bottle carefully toward the pipe.
Harold Brine was listening intently at the other end.
Suddenly he stiffened. "Gorley," he called. "Look!"
Kempt, who had been resting witji his eyes shut, came
alert. "What the hell is it?"
"The pipe. The pipe!" Brine stammered.
Kempt scurried closer for a look.
Brine's heart was beating wildly. "I'm not sure what it
is. Is it a light or some kind of crazy reflection?"
Kempt slid toward the pipe opening. "How can you
have a reflection in the dark?" Then he saw it: a tiny pin-
point of light stabbing through the blackness of the pit.
"It's a light," he whispered hoarsely to Brine. He did
not dare yell, afraid that the light might disappear. A
pinpoint of light in the darkness! It was unbelievable.
Where was it coming from? He put his ear to the opening
of the pipe.
134 Miracle at Springhill
"I hear sounds. I can make out voices!" he shouted to
Brine who was beside him. This time the others heard.
They crawled from their places, the places they had
selected to die. They forgot their aches, their hunger, and
Only Joe McDonald could not move. He strained his
eyes trying to pierce the darkness to see the light.
"Voices!" Kempt screamed. "There's voices coming
through the pipe!"
"Yell into the pipe. Try and make them hear us."
"There are twelve of us here," Kempt called with every
bit of strength he could muster. "Come and get us!"
"Stay Where You Arc!'
Blair Phillips stiffened. Tiny shivers ran up his back, lift-
ing the hair on his neck. He jerked the bottle away from
the pipe while the words rang in his ears. His heart raced
and pounded, his breath grew short. "Stay where you are!
We'll come as quickly as possible," lie shouted back.
"They're here! They're here! They found us!" Gorley
Kempt's voice was shrill.
Life flowed back into twelve men. Their despair of
only a moment ago had now turned to delirium. They
laughed and hugged one another, then wept like babies
in the dark.
Harold Brine shoved his way to the pipe. "For God's
sake come and get us!" he screeched. The control he had
manifested since his entombment was now gone. He could
not keep back the sobs.
"We made it! We made it! We're gonna get out of this
rat trap!" Bowman Maddison yelled. He pounced on Levi
136 Miracle at Springhill
Milley in his exuberance and both men fell to the floor,
embracing each other.
For the moment, the men forgot where they were. They
tried to stand erect, banging their heads on the roof but
scarcely noticing it. Then Maddison sobered.
He called out several times to the others, trying to make
himself heard above the din. "Quiet down!" he finally had
to yell. "Quiet down!"
The men grew silent.
"Let two of the boys do the talking through the pipe/'
Maddison said. "We'll never get out of here if we keep
this up. We'll celebrate later."
Kempt and Brine remained by the pipe. Kempt called
up again. "Don't forget we're alive in here. How about
Blair Phillips was too excited to answer Kempt's re-
quest. And he had but two thoughts. First, the crews must
get through the wall of stone and coal as quickly as hu-
manly possible. Second, word must be sent immediately
to the surface.
He called to one of his crew. "Get back as fast as you
can. Tell them at 7,800 to call up to the surface. Tell them
there's twelve men alive at 13,000."
A rescue worker moved off in a crouch, as fast as he
could go along the three-foot-high tunnel, to carry the
news to the world.
Phillips leaned into the pipe once more. "Call out your
names. Who's down there?" His heart raced as he waited
for the reply.
"Gorley Kempt . . . Harold Brine . . . Wilfred Hunter
. . . Caleb Rushton . . . Joe McDonald . . . Larry Lead-
"Stay Where You Are!" 137
better . . . Hughie Guthro . . . Teddy Michniak . . . Levi
Milley . . . Eldred Lowther . . . Bowsie Maddison . . . Joe
Holloway . . ." Kempt's voice sounded proud as he called
out the names of the men who had made it. But he didn't
stop talking. "Joe McDonald's got a busted leg. Teddy
Michniak's arm is bad." Finally he paused and, with a
note of exultation in his voice, said, "But we're in pretty
good shape. Just get us the hell out of here!"
"Take over," Phillips called to Earl Wood. "I'm going
up top with the names."
"Can you remember them?" Wood asked.
"Every blessed one of them," Phillips grinned. "Every
blessed one of them!" He scurried down the tunnel toward
the slope that would take him to the surface. The top of
his helmet just cleared the roof as he hopped over timbers
"Hold on boys," Wood called below. He could think of
nothing more to say. What could he tell these men after
what they had already been through?
Percy Weatherbee edged close to Wood. "Let me talk
to them. Kempt is my nephew." Wood moved aside and
Weatherbee put his mouth to the pipe. "Gorley. Gorley,
how are you?" he called.
Kempt could not believe it. He shivered when he rec-
ognized his uncle's voice. "Percy! I'm all right you son-
of-a-gun. We're all all right. Just come and get us out of
Weatherbee was too overcome with emotion to carry
on the conversation. There were many questions he
wanted to ask but the words would not come. And he
found, without embarrassment, that he was crying in front
of the others.
138 Miracle at Springhill
George Scott moved up to the pipe to yell words of
encouragement in his Scottish burr.
"Take the apples out of your mouth and talk English!"
Kempt yelled back. Humor had returned to a man who
had been perched on the brink of death only minutes
Scott laughed and cried.
George Hodges shoved Scott aside. His brother-in-law,
Harold Brine, was alive! "Harold, are you O.K.?" Hodges
called. "This is George. George Hodges!"
"He's fine. We're all fine," Kempt answered. He called
to Brine. "Get over here. Someone wants to talk to you."
The men had momentarily forgotten their thirst. They
knew nothing except that someone was aware they were
alive. They would get out eat fooddrink water and
breathe fresh air.
Harold Brine could barely bring himself to speak.
"George, it's Harold," he said. "I'm all right." The excite-
ment was too great for him to think to ask about his
"Thank God," Hodges cried as he moved back from the
pipe and let Wood take over again.
"It's gonna be a while before we can get through to
you," Wood called. "It's almost solid wall between us,
about sixty feet. Stay put."
"We can't go anyplace. If we could we would have been
out long ago," Kempt joked. The men laughed. Anything,
even slightly funny, seemed to send them into hysteria
Levi Milley had a suggestion. "We're gonna have a long
wait before they get to us. Just let's take it easy. We'll
leave Gorley and Harold at the pipe."
"Stay Where You Are!" 139
"You stay too," Maddison said.
"O.K.," Milley agreed. "Well all spell each other."
Shortly after 2:00 P.M., the morning drizzle had settled
into a steady rain. Most of the townspeople stayed home;
it was easier to wait there for the bad news.
When Blair Phillips reached the 7,800-foot level, he
telephoned the names of the survivors. Seconds later,
word was flashed to the surface that twelve men were
alive at the 13,000-foot level. In a few minutes the town
came to life.
When the telephone rang at Margaret Guthro's house,
she walked slowly, disconsolately, to answer it. Her
brother, Bud, had spent the morning putting in the front
step so things would be easier at the funeral. It was only
a matter of time, she knew, before Hughie's body would
be found and brought to the surface. Then the funeral.
Each blow of Bud's hammer had been like the sealing of
a coffin, had torn at her emotions until she actually be-
came physically sick and vomited in the bathroom.
The moment Margaret picked up the telephone she
heard Loretta Holloway shout. "Margie, Margie! They've
found twelve men alive! Joe and Hughie are with them
and they're all right!"
Margaret Guthro flew into a rage. For almost a week
she had been driven frantic by wild rumors. Finally, she
had succeeded in facing the agonizing fact that Hughie
was dead. This morning, when Bud was building the step,
she had turned off the radio and television. She did not
want to hear any more rumors that men were found alive.
140 Miracle at Springhill
"Don't call me with stories like this!" she yelled before
slamming the receiver into the cradle. Bitter tears flowed
as she buried her face in her arms and sobbed.
Moments later, Mr. Tapper's car pulled up in front of
her house. This time, he was not bringing cookies from
the church. He ran from the car to the front door.
Margaret wiped her eyes. Her hands were wet with
tears when she answered the door.
Tupper did not wait for her to speak. "Margie, Margie!"
he shouted. "Hughie's alive!"
All at once it struck her. It wasn't Loretta passing on a
rumor. Mr. Tupper was telling her the very same thing!
She fell into his arms, laughing and sobbing.
Bud was in the back yard cleaning up. He had not
heard the telephone ring, but he heard the minister's car
pull up and he could hear the laughing and crying.
"Hughie's alive!" Margaret cried out.
Bud grinned. "I'd better get rid of these," he said. He
was still carrying a piece of lumber and a handful of nails.
"What would Hughie think if I left the place a mess?"
Tupper left to deliver the good news to others.
Margaret switched on the television set and went into
the kitchen to whip up a pan of ham and eggs for herself
and her brother. All at once she was hungry. Soon she
would be preparing meals for her husband. Things were
getting back to normal.
Not far away, Velda Milley was making lunch for her-
self and Judy when the telephone rang. She, too, had
turned off the radio and television sets. She did not want
to hear any more news.
"Stay Where You Are!" 141
"Get that, will you dear?" she called to Judy. *Tm busy."
Judy got up from the couch to answer the telephone.
Reverend Earle DeLong of the United Baptist Church
"Yes?" Judy said.
"Tell your mother to get ready." The minister did not
know how to begin, how to break the news. His own heart
was racing. "Tell your mother to get ready," he repeated.
Then he quickly blurted out the news. "They found
twelve men alive. Your father is with them!"
At first Judy did not understand the message. "What
happened to Daddy?" she asked fearfully. She was expect-
ing bad news. It was impossible that he could be alive.
At the moment she thought twelve more bodies had been
located in the pit.
"He's alive. They found him with some other men," the
"Are you sure it's Daddy?" She waited breathlessly for
"Yes dear, I'm sure." He spoke quietly this time.
Judy put down the receiver. She did not even remem-
ber to say "thank you" or "goodbye." She raced to the
Velda was standing in the doorway of the room, nerv-
ously wiping her hands on her apron. She had heard only
snatches of the telephone conversation and had grown
cold and weak when she heard her daughter ask, "Are
you sure it's Daddy?" It could mean only one thing: Levi
was found dead.
"Momma, Momma! Daddy's alive! He's alive!" The
words tumbled from the mouth of the excited girl. "That
142 Miracle at Springhill
was Mr. DeLong. He said Daddy's alive! They found
twelve men! Daddy's with them!"
She ran into her mother's arms.
It took only minutes for the news to spread through the
town. Church bells rang. Automobiles roared up and
down the streets, horns blasting as if it were New Year's
Eve. The drivers yelled to anyone who would listen:
"Twelve alive! Twelve alive!"
Stores were abandoned as proprietors and customers
raced down Main Street to the mine grounds. They
sloshed through the mud, ignoring the rain, eager to get
to the pithead. No one realized that the men would not
yet be coming to the surface.
Zora Maddison, Bowman's fourteen-year-old daughter,
was pushed and shoved along in the throng. Who were
the men alive? No one was quite sure. She ran back and
forth, trying vainly to stop someone, anyone, who could
give her news. More than one hundred children were in
the Lamp House when the girl raced in.
A man was calling out the survivors' names. The girl
listened, standing on her toes to watch the man's mouth.
She half -heard, half-saw, his lips form the names: "Joe
McDonald . . . Levi Milley . . . Gorley Kempt . . . Bow-
man Maddison . . ."
"Daddy's alive! He said 'Bowman Maddison/ That's my
father!" For the first time since the bump, the girl turned
and ran home. Now she could tell her mother the news
she promised she would bring.
Within minutes after the word was relayed that twelve
"Stay Where You Are!" 143
men had been found alive, Dr. J. Arnold Burden of All
Saints Hospital appeared at the office of Mine Manager
George Calder. The doctor, a short, wiry man, knew the
workings below. He had helped finance his medical edu-
cation by working for the mine company. Now he was
dressed to enter the mine.
"Tin ready to go down, George/' the doctor told Calder.
Both men were smiling for the first time in almost a week.
"The sooner the better/' Calder replied, patting the
doctor on the shoulder. "You know contact was made
through an air pipe, don't you?"
"I guess a dozen people told me that on the way over
here/' He stopped for a moment, trying to plan. "I've been
thinking/' he said. "Can you get a length of copper pipe.
Half-inch? Clean? We could try to pass it down through
the air pipe and maybe send some water and soup down
to the boys while they wait."
"Damn good idea," Calder agreed. "Damn good/' He
paused to picture in his mind the particular area where
contact was made. "It's on a downslope and the stuff will
flow right down to them. Til make arrangements."
"Fine/' Dr. Burden said. "Send the pipe down as soon
as you can. I'm going below now."
The doctor left the office and walked in the rain to the
pithead, waving greetings to the crowd.
At 4:30 P.M., rescue crews reported that they were still
a heartbreaking forty feet away from the twelve men.
Slowly, "barefaced" men chipped away at the stone and
coal. There was no time to gouge out a large hole in the
wall. A small tunnel, big enough to squeeze a body
through, would be enough. The men ignored the sweat
144 Miracle at Springhill
that poured from their bodies as they worked flat on their
stomachs, pushing through the wall.
At the same time, Police Chief MacDonald was busy
on Main Street, clearing off all unnecessary vehicles. Only
ambulances, police cars, and the press were to be allowed
on the street. The chief conferred with civil defense au-
thorities and men were posted at every street intersecting
Main Street on the way to the hospital, to keep the roads
The chief ordered rope barriers set up around the pit-
head, with local police and Royal Canadian Mounted
Police on hand to keep the eager crowd from pressing
forward and hampering the work of the now exuberant
At 6:30 P.M., rescue workers again sent word to the
surface. They were now thirty-five feet from the trapped
men. They had been able to make only five feet of prog-
ress in the past two hours. Fresh crews were sent down
to spell the grimy and sweaty men. The original crews
did not want to leave. They wanted to be there when the
breakthrough was made.
All Saints Hospital was buzzing with activity.
When they received the word, Administrator Stanley
Tibbetts and Superintendent of Nurses Rebeccah Har-
greaves held a hurried consultation.
"We've got to make room for twelve men/' Tibbetts
said. "That means moving some of the men injured last
Thursday. Well put them in the armory."
"When will they be coming in?" Nurse Hargreaves
"Stay Where You Are!" 145
"I don't know for sure. Probably not for quite a few
hours. You know Dr. Burden is going down to talk to
them. He'll know what to do/'
"We should get started right away, though," the nurse
"Right. Have the supply of blood plasma checked and
ready. We still don't know what shape the men are in."
They hurried to get things prepared.
Men who had been brought in on the first night of the
bump were glad to give up their beds in the hospital and
be transferred to the armory. It meant that some of their
buddies were coining back from the dead.
At 9:30 P.M., the "barefaced" men had found new
strength below ground. They worked and smashed at the
wall. Perspiration soaked through their shirts, but they
were now only twenty-five feet away from the break-
through. They paused, long enough to gulp from their
water cans, then they smashed again at the wall. When
enough coal and rock gave way, they filled the buckets
and passed them down the line for the men at the end to
Inch by inch, they bored through the wall. When the
man in front could no longer lift his arms, he took his
place at the end of the line and dumped the buckets of
rock and coal. Everyone moved up to take his whacks
at the barrier.
Once more fresh crews were sent down. Dr. Burden
arrived with them and helped pass the bucket, working
his own way up to the front of the line. He moved to the
air pipe and called through. "Hello. This is Dr. Burden."
146 Miracle at Springhill
"Hello doctor/' Gorley Kempt's voice came back, "Good
to hear you."
The doctor called again. "Get the men to get some
water cans and bring them to you. We're going to try to
send some water down through the pipe. Well let you
"We sure could use it, doctor/'
"In the meantime, I've got some instructions for you,"
the doctor continued. "Above all, remember, when you
get your water can full, don't drink it all at once. Under-
stand? You'll get violently ill. I know it's going to be diffi-
cult, but you've got to take one mouthful only. Swallow
slowly. Then count to five hundred before you take an-
other. Do you understand?"
"Did you say five hundred?" Kempt asked.
"Yes, that's right. Five hundred."
"Jesus, doctor," Kempt called, laughing, "some of the
guys here can't count to five hundred!"
"I mean it, Gorley. Don't gulp it down when it comes."
"O.K., O.K., just send it."
"It'll be here in a while."
Almost as if on signal, a crew of men arrived with the
half-inch copper tubing. They crawled up to Dr. Burden.
"We're going to insert a copper tube through the pipe
now," the doctor informed Kempt. "Call back when it
The men began to snake the tubing through the air
pipe, slowly, carefully, to be sure that a stray fragment of
coal or rock would not block it.
At the other end, Kempt waited. He held his hand over
the pipe opening, just to feel the tubing when it came
"Stay Where You Are!" 147
The gush of air that whooshed through when Earl
Wood's pick first struck the pipe had cleared it and the
tubing went through easily.
Kempt saw it, first a wiggle, then a piece of metal he
could touch. "I can feel the end here/' He scraped a space
beneath the life-giving tube, careful not to touch it.
"Good/* the doctor answered. "Now just wait at the
pipe and I'll let you know when the water's coming. Did
you get the water cans?"
"We're all ready and waiting." Kempt was almost
frantic with excitement. "Doctor," he called, "the guys
here want to know what the weather is like outside."
It s raining.
"The sun was shining when we came in. It'll be good to
"Don't talk too much," the doctor cautioned. "Take it
easy and . . . hold on . . ."
At that moment two men appeared, carefully carrying a
bucket of cool water.
The doctor looked back, approvingly, then leaned again
to the tube.
"Get ready with your water cans."
Gorley Kempt placed a can at the bottom of the tubing.
Dr. Burden, helped by another man, lifted the water
bucket and poured its precious contents through the half-
inch tube. It gushed through, filled the water can, and
splashed onto the mine floor.
"Hold up! For God's sake, I'm getting all wet!" Gorley
Kempt's trousers were soaked through. The fresh, cool
water felt good on his skin, but after all these hours, the
waste of water seemed somehow to be a sin.
Dr. Burden pulled the bucket away from the pipe. The
148 Miracle at Springhill
doctor put his mouth close to the opening. "Remember,
count to five hundred after each drink."
Kempt took a quick mouthful and passed the can to
Harold Brine, who shook it first, just to hear the pleasant
sound of water splashing. Brine held it to his lips and
drank. Tears flowed down his cheeks and he could taste
the salt at the corners of his mouth. In the darkness, he
passed the can to Levi Milley.
Someone handed Kempt another empty water can. He
called up, "Send some more water."
The water flowed through again, this time more slowly,
and Kempt filled the second can. "O.K., that's enough for
now," he called. The water stopped.
Kempt handed the can to Milley. "Make sure Joe and
Teddy get this." In all the excitement, he still remembered
that Joe McDonald and Teddy Michniak were together.
Joe could not move and Teddy remained faithfully by his
side. Milley moved off in the darkness, clutching the can.
Count? None of the men stopped to count to five hun-
dred. Some started to, but they could not wait for their
second drink. The second can was soon emptied.
"We're out of water," Kempt hollered up the pipe.
"Send us some more."
"Nothing doing, Gorley," the doctor answered. "YouVe
all had enough for now. I know you didn't count to five
hundred. You couldn't have."
"No, we didn't count, doctor. We just couldn't wait."
"Well, I can't say that I blame you. But don't move
about too much now. How do you feel? Any bad effects
from the water?"
"No. I feel fine. Still thirsty, though." Kempt called.
He asked around. "The others are O.K., too."
"Stay Where You Are!" 149
"Tell them we'll send some good hot coffee down in a
At 11:00 P.M., rescue crews were ten feet away. They
hacked ceaselessly at the wall, moving closer, ever closer
to the twelve men.
Coffee, heavily sugared and steaming hot, was sent
down through the pipe, and again Gorley Kempt's
trousers were soaked through as the liquid overflowed the
At 11:55 P.M., Dr. Burden called down the pipe. "How
would you fellows like some soup?"
"What kind?" Kempt joked.
"This is no restaurant!" The doctor turned to the rescue
men. "Can you imagine that? Dying and starving for more
than six days, and now they want to know what kind of
soup!" There was a grin on his face as he yelled down the
pipe, "Tomato soup, take it or leave it!"
"We'll take it, we'll take it! I was ofcly kidding. But for
Christ's sake, don't soak me again. I want to look my best
when I get out!" Goose pimples prickled at Kempt's black
beard. He still could not believe they were saved.
The tomato soup was piped to the men and, for the
third time, Kempt's trousers were soaked. He cursed
softly, but without malice. "The bump didn't kill me, but
it looks like I'm gonna drown in here instead!" He filled
two water cans with soup. Once more the men drank
without counting to five hundred. They did not get sick.
Dr. John R. Ryan of Springhill and Dr. Kenneth Gass of
Pugwash joined Dr. Burden below ground. They brought
more medical supplies for the moment when the final
breakthrough would be achieved.
150 Miracle at Springhill
Now it was like a circus. At 12:10 A.M., rescue men re-
ported that they were only five feet away. Word was
flashed to the surface. The waiting crowd grew tense.
At 12:30 rescuers smashed through the final foot of
stone and coal. One by one, they crawled through the
opening in the wall, lights flashing in the darkness.
Kempt saw them first. He grabbed the man nearest him
and hugged and kissed him. Rescued and rescuers wept
Dr. Burden's voice rang clearly through the shaft.
"Don't waste any time/' he ordered. He crawled directly
to Joe McDonald and Teddy Michniak, and began to
examine the injured men.
Doctors Ryan and Gass made superficial examinations
of the others, then ordered blindfolds placed across their
"What the hell's that for?" Kempt asked as he was
lifted, blindfolded, onto a stretcher.
"To keep the glare of floodlights on the surface from
injuring your eyes," Dr. Ryan said. "You've been in com-
plete darkness for so long we don't know but what the
sudden light might hurt them."
Kempt ripped away the blindfold. "No offense, doctor,"
he apologized. "But that's just it. I've been in the dark
since last Thursday. I'm not going upstairs in the dark,
On the surface, the crowd could feel the tension that
increased almost to hysteria when Dr. J.G.B. Lynch,
seventy-four-year-old medical officer of the Dominion
Steel and Coal Corporation, ordered the floodlights
dimmed. He knew the miners. He knew that most of them
"Stay Where You Are!" 151
would do exactly as Gorley Kempt had done with his
At 3:25 A.M., a grimy rescue worker appeared at the
pithead, his face wreathed in a beautiful smile. He waved
excitedly to an ambulance driver to back his vehicle
closer. "Gorley Kempfs on the way up!" he yelled. A mur-
mur swept the crowd.
A stretcher, borne by two men, was framed suddenly
at the entrance of the mine. The crowd surged forward,
eager to catch a glimpse of the man who had been
snatched from the bowels of the earth.
Kempt lifted himself to one elbow on the stretcher and
waved, his teeth flashing white through a face as black
as the rain-soaked ground. Then Kempt slumped back,
exhausted by his show of bravado.
A white-coated driver opened the back door of the
ambulance and the stretcher was lifted gently into the
vehicle. The driver closed the door, raced around the side
of the ambulance and into the driver's seat. Police waved
the crowd back as the mud-splattered ambulance, its
siren wide open, sped away from the mine.
Joe McDonald was eased onto a stretcher below ground.
Each movement jarred his body and tore at his hip, where
the bone protruded. He did not cry out, but simply
whispered to Dr. Burden, "It hurts." Like Gorley Kempt,
he was carried through the shaft to the man-rake.
When McDonald appeared on the stretcher at the pit-
head, the crowd again surged forward. Some applauded
and some wept. In a few minutes, another ambulance
roared away to the hospital.
Eldred Lowther followed Joe McDonald. Then came
152 Miracle at Springhill
Teddy Michniak, Levi Milley, Bowman Maddison, Wil-
fred Hunter, Caleb Rushton, Harold Brine, Hugh Guthro,
Joe Holloway, and Larry Leadbetter.
Leadbetter thought he was in good shape. He felt fine,
he told the rescuers below ground. "I'm gonna walk out
of here and then I'm gonna walk home/' he said as
workers tried to lift him onto a stretcher. He took several
steps forward, and staggered, as arms reached out to
support him. Leadbetter, like the others, was carried out
on a stretcher.
At 5:02 A.M., Thursday, October 30, the last ambulance
left the mine grounds for All Saints Hospital. The rescue
of twelve men was complete.
The people who had waited in the rain at the pithead
now appeared at the hospital, anxious to talk to the sur-
vivors, to see them, touch them. Women, whose husbands
and sons were still unreported below ground, cried as
they stood on the stone steps outside the hospital, huddled
together for warmth in the cold rain. One question burned
in their minds. They wanted to ask the survivors if they
had seen their men below ground. But they were not
allowed in the building. It was not cruel, it was necessary.
The men were weak. They needed medical attention.
Above all, they needed the best therapy in the world for
them, the sight and touch of their own wives and chil-
Even before doctors began administering plasma to
the survivors, before they removed the grimy clothing
or began to wash away dirt from their bodies, the women
and children who had waited six and a half agonizing
days were allowed into the ward.
"Stay Where You Are!" 153
The men were filthy and gaunt; eyes sunk in their heads
and black, coal-stained beards made them appear unreal.
Margaret Guthro, blinded by tears, raced into the ward
with the other women. She thought she recognized her
Hughie and ran to his bedside and hugged him.
"That isn't Hughie, Margie/' a woman laughingly told
her. "That's Joe Holloway!"
Startled, Margaret looked at the black face of the miner
in the bed. He was smiling at her.
"Joe?" she asked.
"Well, I'm glad to see you, too," she said. She leaned
over and gave him a kiss and then hurried down the
aisle between the beds until she found her husband.
She threw herself into his outstretched arms, giving vent
to all the emotion stored up in those long, terrible hours
of waiting. When she stood up, her face was as black as
her husband's. Tears had washed the dust and dirt onto
the front of her dress.
Levi Milley was in bed, trying to pull off his grimy
trousers, when Judy rushed in with her mother just behind
"Hi, Judy," Levi called out, when he spotted his smiling
child. He said it as if he had seen her every day for the
past six days. "How's about getting your Dad another
Judy was too excited to answer, but dashed off to find
a nurse who would get a pillow.
Velda did not run to her husband's bedside. Her legs
would not react the way she wanted them to. When she
154 Miracle at Springhill
reached the bed, she was shaking and felt faint. She
leaned over to kiss her man, to touch his face, to caress his
Milley felt his wife's slender body quivering. "Don't
worry, hon," he said, trying to console her. "Don't worry/'
he repeated. "I'll be home soon. This finishes me with
Velda did not answer. A great sob welled up in her and
she bent over once more to kiss and hug her husband.
Milley tried to comfort her. "You know, I tried to sell
one of the doctors some of our chickens on the way up."
He laughed and Velda, tears streaming down her cheeks,
looked at him and laughed too.
"At least you won't have to worry about money for a
while," Milley continued. "I'll be getting compensation."
"Who cares about money?" Velda answered, giving him
another hug. "J uc ty an( ^ ^ have you back."
At this moment, Judy appeared, breathless, and with a
pillow. She propped it behind her father's head, leaned
over and kissed him. Then she spoke for the first time to
her father. "Hi, Dad," she said softly.
Bowman Maddison could not speak when his wife and
children reached his bedside. He looked at their faces
and began to sob. They were faces he had never expected
to see again.
Solange wept and embraced her husband. "Oh, Bowsie,
Bowsie, I thought you were gone. I thought we'd never
have you back!"
Alden pushed his way to his father's side. "I prayed for
you, Daddy. I never stopped. And I took care of Mom,
too." He kissed his father.
"Stay Where You Are!" 155
Zora stood at the foot of the bed and stared. This was
the girl who never left the pithead until she received the
news that her father was safe; now, she did not utter a
word. She could not. Great tears cascaded down her
cheeks and she made no effort to wipe them away.
Maddison looked away from Solange and Alden, at his
daughter. "How are you, dear?" he asked.
The girl ran to the side of the bed sobbing and shaking.
"Oh, Daddy, Daddy, I love you so!"
By noontime, doctors had finished examining the
twelve men and announced that they were in "surprising'*
Each survivor had lost only about ten pounds. Their
eyesight was unimpaired, despite the six and a half days
in darkness. No aftereffects were expected.
Joe McDonald would have to remain in the hospital
for some time, in traction, while his dislocated and
fractured hip mended.
Teddy Michniak had a broken shoulder and would be
hospitalized for several weeks.
Wilfred Hunter's left leg was in bad shape. Doctors
were not sure they would be able to save it. They were
afraid of gangrene.
But the others would probably be discharged within
a week. All had been given plasma to restore their
strength. Solid foods would be given to them gradually.
Rescue workers had a grim report to make later in
the day. At least twenty-four bodies had been located
in the general area where the rescue took place. The
gladness and joy of the town quickly turned again to
156 Miracle at Springhill
gloom. Once more the reality of the disaster struck home
as tired rescue crews continued to push onward in the
pits. They would not stop until all bodies were brought
to the surface for burial.
A Royal Visit
Friday morning, October 31, dawned bleak and raw. The
rain had stopped, but heavy clouds still blanketed the
town. A chill wind whipped across the mine grounds and
tugged at the flaps of the Salvation Army tents. Small
knots of women huddled close together, their shawls
pulled tightly about heir heads. They were the wives of
men still below. All had the same thought. If they found
twelve alive after so long, then maybe, maybe, they'd
find another. Each hoped it would be her man.
It was now more than a week since the bump had
rocked the community. The toll of known dead stood at
thirty-two men brought to the surface and identified.
Ninety-three men, including the twelve so recently
snatched from approaching death, had been rescued.
Forty-nine men still remained unaccounted for in the
During the morning, General Manager Harold C.M.
Gordon made a televised and broadcast statement which
158 Miracle at Springhill
took the breath out of the town. In the main company
office, the press had gathered to report his speech. Dirt
still creased his face and his mouth was set in a thin line.
His eyes told the story everyone expected.
"It will take at least another week/' he said, "to fully
explore the remaining sections of the mine at the present
terribly slow rate of operations/' He paused for a moment
to let his words have their effect. No one in the room
stirred. "It pains me deeply to say this, but I cannot see
how any men, if they are still alive, and mind you, I said
'if/ can survive until we are able to reach them. Well
keep going until all the bodies are brought up." He
accented the word "bodies/ 5
The press had a few questions. They understood what
Gordon meant. How long, they asked, can a man survive
in a black hell without food and water? How many days?
The fact that twelve men did it for six and a half days
was practically impossible to comprehend. But can a man
go seven days, or eight or nine?
"No," Gordon answered solemnly.
Members of the press seemed to agree.
But the rescue crews continued to chip their way for-
ward through the black tunnels. And the women, at the
pithead and at home, continued to wait.
Maurice Ruddick was sure he heard noises in the morn-
ing. At this point, he did not care what was causing them.
They might even be the mine rats moving closer, sensing
that men would soon be dead. Then the rats could begin
feasting on the bodies. Ruddick shuddered and drove the
thought from his mind.
Doug Jewkes was talking once more about Seven-Up.
A Royal Visit 159
This time, he added a quart of ice cream. He would die
happy, he said, if only he could have them both.
"Shut up, Doug!" Ruddick called. It was the first time
he had spoken harshly to any of his buddies and his voice
surprised him. It sounded weak and thin, not like his
at all. "Christ/' he thought, "my voice is changing to a
tenor!" He felt his arms. They were thinner than he had
ever known them to be. He rubbed his face and felt his
beard. It itched something awful. "How did we ever last
this long?" he asked himself. "I'm an animal now, trapped
in a cage. We're all animals. We eat bark and we drink
... we drink . . ." He could not bring himself to say it,
even to himself.
He tried to wet his lips. But his tongue was thick and
coated. His lips hurt when he ran his tongue over them.
They were cracked and dirt had gotten into the cracks.
A wave of weakness, a light, cool feeling, swept over him.
It passed quickly and he began to sweat.
Garnet Clarke was awake. He had dozed off without
realizing it. And when he awoke, he did not remember
sleeping. The minutes and the hours and days were now
one. Time was nothing. Everything was the same. He
touched his arm. He pinched it. Would he ever awake or
was all the world like this?
The sound of noises in the distance, a million miles
away, cleared his head. He nudged Currie Smith beside
him. "You awake, Currie?"
"Yeah, Fm awake."
"You know today's Friday?"
"So nothing!" Clarke answered with distinct irritation.
"Sorry," Smith said. "I just don't feel well."
160 Miracle at Springhill
"Neither do 1. 1 guess we all feel lousy/' Clarke paused.
"When do you think it'll come?"
"When do you think well die?" Clarke asked.
"Soon, I hope. I can't take any more. I wish it happened
right away. Why does it have to take so long?"
Both men fell silent. Then Clarke spoke. "I don't feel
like looking around any more. I haven't got any strength
left. I can hardly move."
Smith changed the subject. "What do you think hap-
pened to Barney Martini He wondered about the un-
conscious man, alone, without food or water.
"Probably dead," Clarke replied. "He couldn't last, not
in the shape he was in when we saw him. He's probably
They grew silent again. Even a brief conversation now
taxed their strength. They could hear scratching and
vibrations from somewhere, but they paid no attention
Maurice Ruddick was humming softly to himself. Then
he began to recite slowly:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee . . .
The others listened in the warm darkness. Garnet
Clarke joined him and sang in a hoarse whisper.
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.
The two men paused to catch their breaths.
A Royal Visit 161
"Sing some more/' Currie Smith asked.
"Please/' said Frank Hunter. "It makes us feel better/'
Ruddick and Clarke began again:
Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no languor know,
These for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone;
In my hand no price I bring;
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Barney Martin was, incredibly, still alive. But he was
in an advanced stage of delirium.
For nearly eight days he had been without food or
water in complete darkness. By animal instinct alone, in
his infrequent periods of consciousness he had scratched
and clawed, trying to dig his way out of the shallow
pocket in the ground. His nails were now broken and
jagged, his fingers bloody and sore.
Each time he awoke, he scratched again and tried to
pull himself forward. But his body was numb and he could
barely move. He retched but nothing came up. Barney
Martin no longer knew where he was or how he had got
there. He was alone in a private Hell.
Above ground, late in the afternoon, the weather turned
even colder and the wind began blowing in gusts. At
4:25 P.M. a sleek B.O.A.C. jet airliner touched down at
the airport at Moncton, New Brunswick. His Royal High-
ness Prince Philip, en route from Ottawa to London, had
come to visit Springhill at the request of the Queen.
Philip stepped briskly from the plane and into a lim-
ousine, and sped the sixty miles to SpringhilTs All Saints
162 Miracle at Springhill
Hospital. At 5:50 P.M. the car glided up the long, concrete
driveway in front of the building and stopped.
Crowds waited outside the hospital in the damp cold,
eager to catch a glimpse of the Prince. There were chil-
dren, with painted faces and white sheets draped over
their bodies, for it was Halloween. Tragedy might grip
the town, but for the youngsters, too young to compre-
hend, the fun of Halloween had to be observed.
Those who waited were silent as Philip left the car and
strode into the hospital. That night in Springhill, with
Harold Gordon's statement still vividly etched on their
hearts, the people of the town were in gloom.
Philip entered the hospital in the glare of television
lights and photographers' flash bulbs, and was escorted
to the twelve survivors.
They looked like different men. Their beards were gone.
Their faces were clean. They smiled. But inside, the
haunting memory of their entrapment would probably be
with them the rest of their lives.
Administrator Tibbetts was in shirtsleeves when the
Prince entered the ward. Mud from the depths of the
mine still stained the floor.
Philip strode to the first bed, occupied by Harold
Brine. "You don't look like you should be in bed," he said
with a smile. "I hear you're the man who dug out one of
his comrades." He patted Brine on the shoulder and
walked to the next bed.
Joe McDonald's leg was in traction. A bottle of plasma,
suspended by the side of his bed, was feeding slowly
through a tube into his arm. Despite this, he grinned
broadly at the Prince.
"You had a long wait underground/' Philip said.
A Royal Visit 163
"Yes, we all did. From now on, I want the sky for my
Wilfred Hunter waited nervously for Philip to ap-
proach. His leg, swathed in bandages, still hurt, and his
heart pounded strongly. But it was a different kind of
pounding than that he had felt below ground.
The Prince reached his bed and paused to chat. But
Hunter was at a loss for words. "Thank you for coming,"
he managed to say.
When Philip stopped by Levi Milley's bed, the thin-
faced miner had a paper and pencil ready. He held them
out. "Would you sign this for my daughter?"
Royalty never gives autographs and Milley knew it.
But what was there to lose?
The Prince took the paper arid pencil and signed Philip.
Then he turned to Caleb Rushton. "I hear you kept the
others alive with your singing."
Rushton laughed, embarrassed.
When Philip emerged, a light rain had begun to fall
and the people had disappeared. The children had been
taken home, their Halloween cut short by cold and rain.
The royal party drove to the muddy mine grounds and
parked near the manager's office. Gordon briefly outlined
the rescue work as they walked together through the mud
to the pithead. "It still doesn't seem possible that twelve
men survived for so long," he said.
"Is it possible that any more are still alive?"
"I hardly think so."
The Prince shook his head.
The visit and inspection at the mine was brief, for
rescue work was still in progress. The next stop was the
United Baptist Church, headquarters for the Red Cross.
164 Miracle at Springhill
On the way out of the church, Philip asked to be taken
to the home of one of the men lost in the bump.
He was driven to Cowan Street, to the home of Mrs.
Harold Raper, whose husband's body was the twenty-
fourth recovered from the pit. Mrs. Raper had been sitting
in the living room, watching the visit on television. She
had switched off the set when the announcer reported that
Philip had left the church and that his destination was
She did not hear them come in the door. When she
looked up, Philip was standing there. He walked to her
and took both hands in his. "I'm so sorry," he said.
The Prince and the widow looked at each other for
what seemed a long time. Finally she gasped, apologized,
and asked him to sit down on the divan.
"What do you think about the mine?" he asked.
"I think it should be padlocked," she answered. "All
we want here is a good industry that would keep the men
out of the mines. It's a good town, with good people."
In a few moments, the visitor left. On his way to the
front door, without asking, he paused at the Memoriam
Book on the hall table, opened it and wrote: Philip, 31
The hands on Maurice Ruddick's watch clung together
like lovers at midnight.
He could barely make them out. It was a luminous
watch, but eight and a half days in darkness had taken
the luminosity out of it. It needed light again in order
to glow in the dark.
Another day, he thought to himself. How many more?
What day is it? All the days and nights ran into each
other. He decided it must be Saturday.
"It's a new month, too/' he muttered to himself. "No-
vember first, a new month/' Then the thought struck him.
"Boys," he announced quietly, "we've got an anniversary
"What are you talking about, Maurice?" Garnet Clarke
asked. "What kind of an anniversary?"
"Two years ago today Number Four blew up." Ruddick
said it just to make conversation.
"How's that gonna help us?" Clarke wanted to know.
166 Miracle at Springhill
"I just thought I'd mention it, that's all."
"Wouldn't it be funny if we all died today, on the an-
niversary?" Doug Jewkes asked.
"What's so damn funny about that?" asked Clarke. "Big
Ruddick was silent, pondering the conversation he had
started. Yeah, wouldn't it be funny if we all died on the
anniversary? God, let it be over with. WeVe all had
enough. We keep hearing noises but nothing happens.
Funny, I can't hear them now. They must have knocked
off for the weekend. Someday they'll find us. Just enough
left to bury after the rats get through with us. Maybe if
I go to sleep I won't wake up.
He stretched out and rested his head on a pile of rock.
Above ground a cold southwest wind blew a shower of
snow through the air. It melted as it touched ground.
At 2:00 A.M., a crew of rescue workers awoke on the
hard wooden benches in the Wash House. It was time to
return to the pits.
Vice-President Harold Gordon appeared in the room,
dressed in coveralls. He wore his helmet, and a can of
water hung from his belt. He was ready to go down again.
"Ready boys?" he asked softly. "It's time."
The men nodded. One by one they rose from the
benches, yawned and stretched and reached for their
shoes on the floor. Then each man picked up his helmet
where he had left it near the shoes.
Overman Bill Miller, whose wiriness belied his sixty-
two years, walked to the door. He and Gordon were
joined by Bud Kenwood, deputy overman. Then Ken
Murray and John Calder walked over. "We're ready,"
An Anniversary 167
one of them said. Leonard Boss, Vernon Barry, Matt
Pearson, Bill Downey, James Rossong, and Dan O'Rourke
completed the crew.
They moved silently out of the Wash House, across
fifty feet of muddy ground to the Lamp Cabin. Their
lamps were snapped into place on their helmets. Freshly
charged batteries hung from their belts.
The men were tired. They did not relish the thought
of the hours ahead, crawling on their bellies, digging
and chipping through rock and coal, only to find more
bodies. It would be more of the same. They would pass
the bucket in a long line from the man in front, who
filled it, to the man in back, who had to look desperately
for a place to dump it.
They filled their water cans and walked single file from
the Lamp Cabin. It was nearly over. Only a few more
days. They were already working in the 13,000-foot level.
There was not much area left to search. Then they could
go home and rest.
The floodlights in the yard outlined the men in the
morning darkness as they bowed their heads to keep the
swirling snow from their eyes. It was cold. It would be
warmer, much warmer, in the mine.
Harold Gordon led them in as another group, sore and
weary, scuffled by on their way to a few hours sleep on
the wooden benches.
Barney Martin still lived. Somehow, he kept his hands
moving. They were red-raw, like chunks of meat in a
butcher store window. But he kept scratching and clawing
for life. He felt he would die if he remained still.
He tried to dig his fingers into the dirt and to pull
168 Miracle at Springhill
himself out into the light. But there never seemed to be
any light. There was nothing. No one. He was alone.
He did not even feel hunger any more. Only thirst. If
only he could dig and keep digging until water spouted
up from the ground.
He pushed his fingers deep into the dirt and pulled
again, trying to move his body forward. The pain spread
from his finger tips and shot down his arms. He fell un-
Maurice Ruddick awoke at 3:30 A.M. I'm still alive, he
thought grimly. Why do I stay alive? Does God want it
that way? Is there something He wants me to do?
Ruddick sat up, his body aching and stiff. "Anyone
"I'm awake/' answered Garnet Clarke.
"Me, too," said Doug Jewkes. "I was lying here just
thinking about Seven-Up. I tried not to. Honest. I just
can't help it." He said it apologetically, remembering that
Ruddick had become angry with him before for talking
about it so much. This time, Ruddick said nothing.
Currie Smith nudged Clarke.
"What is it, Currie?" Clarke asked.
"We're getting closer to the end. I can feel it. I don't
care what happens any more. That's how I know."
"I don't even want to talk about it," Clarke replied. "I've
been thinking about the same thing."
"Me, too," Ruddick said. "Maybe we should try once
more on the pipe. Just once more. For the last time."
The men pondered the suggestion. "I'll do it," Smith
finally said. It was better than sitting still.
At 4.00 A.M., Currie Smith and Maurice Ruddick
An Anniversary 169
crawled to the broken air pipe. They did not feel it would
do any good. But Smith began to tap slowly on the pipe
with an empty water can.
Harold Gordon and his crew were flat on their stomachs,
passing the bucket that Bud Kenwood slowly filled. Per-
spiration stained their shirts and the coal dust clung to
the wet surface.
"Here comes another one/* Kenwood called back. He
arched his back and twisted the bucket around his body
to pass it to the man behind. Slowly, the bucketful of
coal and rock moved to the end man. He dumped it to
one side and it made a small cloud of dust that smarted
his eyes. He quickly sent the empty bucket back up the
"It's almost solid up ahead/' Kenwood called to the
man behind him. "It's really packed in tight." He was
using a pick with a sawed-off handle. With it, he filled
the bucket again.
At 4:30 A.M., Kenwood uncovered a section of com-
pressed air pipe. "We're moving in the right direction/'
he quietly announced.
Barney Martin regained consciousness once more.
When he opened his eyes it was no different than when
they were closed. He blinked several times but nothing
happened. He could not blink away the darkness.
Painfully, he pushed his arms in front of him and tried
again to dig his fingers into the dirt. He wanted des-
perately to grab something solid. But the dirt rolled back
and trickled down his neck. He began to sob in the black-
ness of the mine.
170 Miracle at Springhill
He opened his mouth to cry out in anguish and voiced
a deep croak. He tried again and again to call, to scream.
But he could only groan and sob, and claw at the dirt.
Maurice Ruddick and Currie Smith sprawled at the air
pipe. Smith was sweating, dizzy from the simple exertion
of tapping on the pipe. "It's no use, Maurice/' he panted.
"I can't do it any more." He lay back, still clutching the
empty water can.
"Let rne try it for a while," Ruddick said, sliding closer
to the pipe.
Currie Smith held out the water can and Ruddick took
it. He tapped several times, slowly, deliberately.
"Why does it have to be this way?" Smith asked.
"I don't know, Currie. I don't know."
"We could have died in an automobile accident or in
bed of old age. But not like this. Like animals in a filthy,
stinking hole." His voice began to rise.
Ruddick tapped harder on the pipe to distract Smith.
"We don't pick the way we die, Currie. The good Lord
"But why here?"
"I guess because He figured we were . . . well, like we
were born in here. Since we were kids we worked in the
mines. Maybe that's what He figured. We spent so much
of our lives in here that when our time came, we should
die in here."
"We can't argue about that," Smith said.
"No, we can't." He kept on with his rhythmical tapping.
At 4:45 A.M., Bud Henwood told the others in his crew
An Anniversary 171
that he could no longer move a muscle. He was near ex-
haustion. "Someone take over for me/' he said.
He pulled himself back out of the hole he had chipped
and rolled to one side, making room for the next man
to move up to his place.
Exhaustion and heat had made the men silent. There
was nothing to talk about, anyway.
Tap . . . tap . . . tap . . .
Matt Pearson heard it first.
No one had said a word, but Pearson called, "Be quiet!"
The men listened intently. Then it came again.
Tap . . . tap . . . tap . . .
"Hear that? Hear that?" Pearson was shouting now.
The tapping was distinct. "There's at least one alive!"
shouted Kenwood. "Maybe more!"
"Get word to the top quick," Harold Gordon called.
"Let them know/'
Gordon could scarcely believe it. Everything rational
told him that no one should be tapping on the pipe. By
all rights, anyone on the other end should be dead. But
there it was!
At Gordon's command, Bill Downey backed quickly out
of line. He tumbled over rock and scraped his knees in
frenzied haste. He crawled through the shaft and raced
on two feet when there was room. Finally, he reached the
emergency phone strung down from the 7,800-foot level.
He picked it up and waited for what seemed like hours.
"Yes? Hello," came a voice.
Downey could not speak. His heart thumped hard
in his chest.
Downey swallowed, clearing his throat. "We heard
172 Miracle at Springhill
tappings on a pipe!" he yelled. "Tappings!" he repeated.
"There's someone alive down here!" He hung up without
waiting for the inevitable questions. He tumbled and
bumped and crawled back to rejoin the crew.
They worked like crazy men, with their picks and their
bare hands. They tore at the wall with a fury they had
never before known. Their lungs felt as though they
would burst. Their throats ached, raw from the dust. But
they did not stop, even to drink. They filled bucket after
bucket with stone and coal, and gradually inched their
In fifty minutes, at 5:35 A.M., they broke through the
last of twelve solid feet of rock and coal.
"Quiet, everyone," Gordon commanded hoarsely.
The men listened.
Ken Murray heard it first. "What is it?" he whispered.
"Sounds like a cat scratching," answered Dan O'Rourke.
"There's no cats down here," Murray answered. "There
it goes again. Sounds like pebbles falling, or something.
I can't make it out."
"It's coming from this direction," Henwood called, and
he plunged through an opening in the wall. The others
Henwood kept turning his head, so that his helmet light
would flash in every direction. It played on the walls, and
weird shadows danced on the shiny coal. "Jesus!" he
suddenly exclaimed, sucking in his breath. "Look at that!"
He crawled over to the body of Barney Martin.
"He's alive," Henwood said, leaning over Martin. "He's
breathing!" He called for the others, and their lamps
lighted up the scene.
An Anniversary 173
"Look at those fingers!" Kenwood exclaimed. "That
must have been the scratching we heard/'
Barney Martin opened his eyes. The sight of another
face, after eight and a half days, gave him the strength
to smile. He had scratched his way out of darkeness into
light. "God must have saved this little hole for me/' he
Harold Gordon spoke up next. "Give him some water.
Not too much at first. Somebody stay here with him."
Then he turned to Bud Henwood. "Bud, get upstairs and
get a doctor here quick!" Henwood moved away toward
"Follow me," called Gordon. He crawled toward an
opening, the same that Garnet Clarke and Currie Smith
had come through when they first stumbled over Barney
The men chipped at the small opening. Within twenty
minutes, they smashed their way through. They did not
know what to expect, what they would find.
Maurice Ruddick and the others had heard them. They
were waiting, tears of joy streaming down their cheeks.
When Harold Gordon appeared in the opening, his
lamp outlined the figure of Ruddick, who was sitting on
a stack of stone, a grin on his face.
"Maurice! It's Maurice Ruddick!" one of the rescuers
yelled at the scarecrow before them. Despite the dirt and
days of suffering, the rescuers knew The Singing Miner.
"Sing us a song, Maurice!"
Ruddick straightened his back and held his head up
proudly. His words reflected the faith and courage, and
174 Miracle at Springhill
the humor, that had kept these men alive against what
seemed impossible odds.
"Give us a drink and 111 sing you a song!" he fairly
By 9:15 on the morning of November 1, 1958, the rescue
of the seven men was complete.
Most of the group, led by Maurice Ruddick, walked
part of the way out of the pit, to a point where they were
placed on stretchers and carried to the surface.
Barney Martin was too weak to walk. He was taken out
first, semiconscious. When he reached the exit, he sensed
that a crowd had gathered. The snow squall was over
and a bright sun was shining. Martin, hearing voices,
ripped off his blindfold and waved to the crowd.
At All Saints Hospital, the men were immediately ex-
amined. Each had lost about ten pounds, but like the
others, who had been rescued two days earlier, they
would all survive.
Then came the reunions with their families. Wives of
the men, and their children, had waited patiently in the
corridors of the hospital until doctors announced that the
examinations were over.
176 Miracle at Springhill
The women made no effort to fight back tears as they
hurried down the aisles between beds to find their men.
Mabel Smith's eyes were red from crying as she flung
herself into her husband's arms. Earlier, at home, where
she had heard the news of the rescue, she had leaned on
the refrigerator and wept. Her nine-year-old son, who had
rushed home to tell his mother, had broken into tears,
too. It had taken many minutes for mother and son to
regain their composure. Now, they were at Currie Smith's
bedside and the tears began again.
Mrs. Norma Ruddick led four of her twelve children
toward Maurice Ruddick's bedand the children dashed
to embrace their father. For a moment, Norma stood by
and watched. Then she leaned over the bed and stroked
her husband's hair. She did not say a word until Maurice
spoke. "We made it, honey. We made it." But she held his
face between her hands and kissed him 011 the forehead
and the mouth.
"God bless you dear," she finally managed to say.
Seven-year-old Dean nudged his way between his par-
ents. "Daddy, can I come up in the bed with you?"
"Sure. Come on, climb up here."
The boy scampered into the bed and nestled himself
in the cradle of his father's arm.
Maurice leaned over and kissed his child.
Garnet Clarke's father sat by his son's bedside, smiling.
He kept staring at his boy and repeating, over and over,
"I knew you'd make it, son. I knew you'd make it."
Young Clarke reached over and took his father's hand.
He squeezed it and smiled back. "Wish me a happy birth-
day, Dad. I wasn't around when it came!"
But the reunions were brief. The doctors said the men
needed attention washing and scrubbing, sleeping pills,
plasma. So the families left, reluctantly, secure in the
knowledge that an unbelievably happy ending had oc-
curred for them.
For several days rescue crews continued to explore the
mine, but they found no one else alive.
At 8:30 P.M. on Thursday, November 6, exactly two
weeks after the bump, a crew found and removed the
last body, that of thirty-nine-year-old Fidele Allen. His
wife, Sadie, had waited at the pithead until the very end.
The count now stood at one hundred men rescued,
On the day after Allen's body was brought to the sur-
face, the Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation an-
nounced that the shattered No. 2 Colliery would be
permanently closed, ending coal mining in Springhill and
wiping out the only industry in the town.
On November 12, Wilfred Hunter's left leg was am-
putated between the hip and the knee. On November 23,
a month to the day after the bump, the death toll rose
to seventy-five. William Stevenson, rescued among the
first, died in All Saints Hospital. He had broken a leg,
an arm and one shoulder, but seemed well on the way
to recovery when his heart just stopped.
By Christmas all the rescued men had been released
from hospital except Joe McDonald, whose hip was heal-
ing slowly. But on the following day, another casualty
178 Miracle at Springhill
was added to the list when Mayor Ralph Gilroy collapsed
from exhaustion. He had toured practically all Canada,
speaking for the Springhill Disaster Relief Fund, trying
to find new industry for the town. He had managed only
to attract a small woodworking plant.
Not for six months did Joe McDonald move from the
hospital. Then, on May 30, 1959, his fortieth birthday, he
was finally released and brought home on a stretcher. It
would be many more months before he could walk again
and at least a year before the stiffness left his leg.
Toward the end of June the Canadian federal govern-
ment announced location of a new prison farm near
Springhill. A storage battery manufacturer decided to
move his plant to Springhill, too. At least some of the men
would be able to find jobs.
Meanwhile, skeleton crews worked in the mine, salvag-
ing what they could for other mines of the Dominion
Steel and Coal Corporation.
One hundred and twenty-one years had passed since
coal was discovered in Springhill. They had been years of
sweat, heartbreak, and hope.
At first, coal had seemed synonymous with wealth. It
had brought miners and their families to the town, and
given hope that Springhill would prosper.
But eventually, cheaper fuels invaded the markets of
Canada and the United States, and mining with its anti-
quated and costly methods could not effectively compete.
When the danger factor was added to the other costs, the
price of coal became prohibitive.
Thus it was that, at the end of July, 1959, the No. 2
Colliery was sealed off. And the fate of a town was sealed.
I am indebted to the residents of Springhill and to officials of
the Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation for their generous
cooperation and assistance. Without their help the Springhill
story could not have been told.
C. Arnold Patterson, public relations manager for Domin-
ion, very kindly made all the company's information about
the disaster available to me. He was also most helpful in ex-
plaining technical points and in providing photographs of
Doug Harkness, formerly of Radio Station CKCW in
Moncton, New Brunswick, now with the Canadian Press in
Halifax, Nova Scotia, provided invaluable weather data.
Ted Caldwell and Charlie Allbon of the Springhill Record
gave me many details that might otherwise have been over-
looked. They were more than generous with their time.
Bert Chapman, of the Carleton Hotel in Springhill, pro-
vided much helpful background on the town.
The survivors, Maurice Ruddick, Garnet Clarke, Levi
Milley, Bowman Maddison, and their families, submitted to
endless questioning. I am astounded by, and grateful for, their
Mrs. Charles Burton, whose husband was killed, supplied
important information, as did her sister-in-law, Mrs. Katherine
George Calder, the Resident Mine Manager in Springhill,
and Harry Weatherbee, the Lamp Room foreman, supplied ex-
act and detailed information about the rescues. I am in-
debted to them for their help.
And finally, I want to thank the editors of the Boston Globe,
for assigning me to cover the 1956 and 1958 disasters in Spring-